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Citing Violence Associated With Homeless, Abbott Asks DPS To Patrol State-Owned Buildings In Austin

Gov. Greg Abbott
Gabriel C. Pérez

Gov. Greg Abbott directed state troopers to increase patrols within two blocks of state buildings in Central Austin after two stabbings involving homeless Austinites since Friday.

In a letter Thursday, Abbott directed the Texas Department of Public Safety to increase patrols around the University of Texas, the Texas State Capitol and other state-owned buildings starting Monday, citing violence associated with homeless people in Austin.

DPS "is not charged with the duty to police the streets of Austin — that is the City of Austin’s responsibility. However, the State of Texas must do all it can to protect the safety of all its residents and visitors," Abbott wrote in a letter to DPS Director Steven McCraw. "That duty falls even more heavily on DPS when it comes to employees and visitors at all State of Texas facilities — including UT."

RELATED | Homelessness Was A Contentious Issue In 2019. Here's What To Look Out For In 2020.

In an email to KUT, DPS said it "would not discuss specifics related to security measures, but residents can expect to see additional Troopers in the area no later than Monday."

The move is the latest salvo in Abbott's criticism that the city's policies regulating behavior related to homelessness jeopardize public health and safety. In October, he threatened state intervention if the Austin City Council didn't change city laws it passed in June that effectively decriminalized homelessness.

While the city reinstated some bans on camping and resting in public, Abbott continued his criticism of Austin’s rules largely over social media – which Austin Mayor Steve Adler decried last week.

In a statement to KUT, Adler suggested the governor take a different tack in addressing homelessness in Austin and across the state by providing more funding to cities and service providers. Adler pointed to California Gov. Gavin Newsom's request of state lawmakers to provide $1.4 billion in state money to address homelessness as an example.

"Austin remains one of the safest big cities in the country," Adler said. "The Governor could really help Austin and other Texas cities by helping provide mental health clinics, substance abuse treatment, and housing."

Abbott threatened to bolster patrols around state buildings in his initial October letter, but ultimately didn't, opting to direct DPS to clean up underpasses where homeless people frequently set up encampments. 

Now, the governor is following through on the threat of patrols, citing two cases of violence involving homeless Austinites and doubling down on his criticism of Austin's policies.

On Friday, a homeless man fatally stabbed one person and injured three others before jumping off a building at Riverside Drive and South Congress Avenue. The man accused in the stabbing died of his injuries. On Wednesday, one person was transported to the hospital with critical injuries after an altercation. The Austin Police Department suggested to KXAN both parties in that case were experiencing homelessness.

In both cases, Abbott tweeted that the incidents involved homeless people – and placed political blame on the Austin City Council – before police had confirmed anyone involved was homeless.

In his letter, Abbott also cited an arson at a 7-Eleven near UT campus and an attack on the Ann Richards Congress Bridge last year.

Read the governor's letter below.

Andrew Weber is a general assignment reporter for KUT, focusing on criminal justice, policing, courts and homelessness in Austin and Travis County. Got a tip? You can email him at Follow him on Twitter @England_Weber.
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