January 9, 2020
Governor Boosting State Trooper Visibility in Austin
Amid Claims on Homeless Policy as Violence Trigger
By Mike Hailey
Capitol Inside Editor
Governor Greg Abbott fired the latest shot on Thursday in a bitter dispute with Democrats who control the Capital City when he ordered the state police to began patrolling the streets of downtown Austin within two blocks of Texas government facilities in the aftermath of two separate stabbings in the past week.
The Republican governor issued the edict in a letter to the Texas Department of Public Safety with a suggestion that Austin officials had effectively sanctioned an atmosphere of lawlessness with the city's open-arms policy for dealing with a growing homeless population here.
The state's leading law enforcement agency "is not charged with the duty to police the streets of Austin — that is the City of Austin’s responsibility," Abbott said in the directive to DPS Director Steve McCraw.
"However, the State of Texas must do all it can to protect the safety of all its residents and visitors," Abbott added. "That duty falls even more heavily on DPS when it comes to employees and visitors at all State of Texas facilities — including UT."
Abbott had balked initially after threatening three months ago to beef-up the DPS presence around state buildings in the city that's the Texas government headquarters if Austin didn't take a more aggressive approach toward fighting crime that he attributed to homeless people here.
The governor finally intervened in December when he instructed the Texas Department of Transportation to clear out homeless encampments that had proliferated under overpasses on Interstate 35 that threads the eastern edge of downtown Austin.
But Austin Mayor Steve Adler and other Democrats who run city hall have dismissed Abbott's complaints as self-serving rhetoric that's portrayed the homeless in a deceptive light that aims to score political points with conservatives by attacking people who are poor.
Abbott has escalated the criticism, however, after homeless people were accused of two stabbings in the downtown area in the past six days including an attack that claimed the life of an employee late last week at a restaurant on South Congress Avenue a block south of the Colorado River in the heart of the city. The suspect in the murderous assault died after falling from a roof at a small commercial center where he'd eluded police before the fatal stabbing at the Freebirds Wold Burrito franchise.
Abbott ordered the state police patrols after a man was stabbed on Wednesday in an altercation involving two homeless people at the intersection of 4th Street and Trinity about a block from the Texas Lottery Commission office.
The governor hasn't indicated up to now, however, on whether a bill that he signed into law in 2015 might have been a factor in the violent downtown outbursts. State lawmakers had voted that year to remove a prohibition on the possession of knives in Texas. The measure in question had overwhelming bipartisan support at a Capitol where one Texas House Democrat and a state Senate Republican had cast the only dissenting votes.