Austin Police Department holds press conference in wake of Orlando shooting

Catherine Marfin

The Austin Police Department held a press conference Monday to address safety concerns and explain the precautions local law enforcement will take in the wake of the deadliest mass shooting in the United States’ modern history.

“On behalf of the entire [police] department, we send our deepest condolences to the victims of Orlando,” said APD Chief of Staff Brian Manley. “The families and communities have faced a horrific attack that no community should have to endure and are suffering through the aftermath of a tragedy with a level of loss that is hard to comprehend.”

Twenty-nine-year-old Omar Mateen left 49 people dead and 53 wounded after entering Pulse, a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida, armed with an AR-15 rifle and a handgun. The shooter, who pledged allegiance to the Islamic State during a 911 phone call, shot about one-third of the club’s patrons and held dozens more hostage before being killed by police in a gun battle several hours later.

As a result of the Orlando attack, many Austin bar owners have indicated they’re making changes to their security procedures.

“They’re definitely on alert,” Edgar Gierbolini, chair of the Austin Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce, told the Austin American-Statesman. “All of a sudden, our community is under attack. I’m sure the bouncers and security staff have been told to be more cognizant of who comes in.”

Since the shooting early Sunday morning, vigils have been held across the country in honor of the victims, including memorials in New York, Central Florida, Connecticut and Austin. In the wake of what many are calling “the worst tragedy since 9/11,” Manley addressed security measures in Austin, many of which were instilled as a result of previous attacks and acts of violence around the country.

Among these examples, Manley named the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing, which killed three people and injured hundreds of others, and the Mumbai terrorist attacks of 2008, in which 12 coordinated shooting and bombing attacks lasting four days killed nearly 200 people across Mumbai. From each national tragedy or act of terror, there is something for law enforcement officials to learn, Manley said.

In response to the 2008 attacks, APD created the Counter Assault Strike Team, a group of 120 officers that have received advanced training and equipment in active shooter prevention and response tactics. APD has also increasingly utilized the Austin Regional Intelligence Center, a collaborative effort of 17 public safety agencies in the surrounding counties that work together to provide resources, expertise and information to the Center.

Manley also emphasized the active shooter response and prevention training programs APD offers to local businesses, churches, schools and any other group that shows interest in receiving the training. APD makes use of its Real Time Crime Center, a tactic in which a single officer is on staff 24/7, watching crime activity in the area and delegating the department’s resources in order to maximize the community’s safety.

In the aftermath of the tragedy, many of Austin’s gay bars and nightclubs have posted messages of reassurance to their patrons on social media.

“We are completely shattered by today's news from Orlando, FL.,” reads a post on the Facebook page of Cheer Up Charlies, a gay bar in downtown Austin. “We stand full-heartedly with the victims and their families, and all of the LGBTQ communities in every city and town in our nation. We will not let the heaviness in our hearts ruin our time to be proud and to love each other.”

In the press conference, Manley discussed plans for Austin’s Pride Parade, set to take place in late August. Manley said APD plans to increase security measures, and as of the press conference Monday evening, the city’s parade will occur as originally scheduled. Above all, Manley emphasized the importance of the community’s vigilance and cooperation with APD.

“It’s unfortunate that we live in a time where you have to be prepared for how you would respond for yourself and your family [in an active shooter situation],” Manley said. “We are all too often in the aftermath of the tragedy. This goes to the heart of the ‘see something, say something’ campaign. If you see something that is concerning to you, there is nothing wrong with reporting it — that is how we as a community protect each other and keep each other safe.”