Austin Police Association talks officer safety for working homeless camps

Brad Parker and Be Inthavong are partners who live downtown.  

"Our daily routine is downtown. It's not a part-time drive-by for us. This is our life," Inthavong said.  

On Tuesday morning, they realized there's a mattress outside.

"I can't imagine that's going to last. I really hope it doesn't because bedside tables can't be too far behind. That's a significant piece of furniture there," Parker said.  

As Austin Police Association President Ken Casaday points out, under new changes in Austin's city code, that mattress is legal.  

"You know that's not surprising. We've told people that would happen," Casaday said. "People have become more brazen."

After a City Council vote last month, camping, sitting and lying down is only a violation if someone is blocking a pathway or putting themselves or others in some sort of danger.  

"I'm hoping it's a big red neon sign that says 'ok this is...there's a problem in the ordinances, this is just the beginning of something that's going to be horrible and new,'" Parker said.  

In August, the City Manager is set to come back to the Austin City Council with a list of recommendations for where people can and cannot camp. The goal is for enforcement to be "non-criminal."

Council Member Kathie Tovo voted against city-wide camping because she wanted to wait for the City Manager's recommendations.

"To proactively identify an area in every single council district where we would permit camping," she said. "I also suggested that that be limited to a period of time, to one year."

On Tuesday, Governor Greg Abbott retweeted someone claiming a wreck had been caused by "homeless people darting into traffic."  

Abbott said "all state-imposed solutions are on the table including eliminating local sovereign immunity for damages and injuries like this caused by a City's homeless policy."

"I absolutely don't support the Governor of the State stepping in to make legislation for Austin," Tovo said.  

Austin Police say they watched "H.A.L.O. cam" footage of the wreck and couldn't see anyone in the streets.

Mayor Adler called out the Governor for retweeting a "incendiary lie."  

"You blame what never happened on 'reckless' city policy. Really?'" Adler said.

Speaking of police, Casaday says the Association is working with the department to make sure officers have the tools to stay safe in dangerous homeless camps.

"One of these things we've asked the Department to do is provide a letter from the Health Department on what immunizations officers might need having to deal in these transient camps where you have human feces and rodents running all over the place and dirty needles," Casaday said.   

He's hoping APD will partner with a dry-cleaning company to clean uniforms and buy state of the art boot-cleaners.

"A pad they stand on for approximately 10 to 12 seconds and then after you step off, the boots have been sanitized," Casaday said.