The city of Austin held a meeting Tuesday to discuss alternative responses to public safety incidents in City Council District 9, which includes West Campus.
Roughly 30 residents signed up to participate in the meeting, which included exercises conducted over Zoom. Participants responded to seven scenarios that dealt with situations involving public safety, such as traffic and drug incidents. Each scenario included a list of questions that gauged how individuals wanted the problem to be handled and if they wanted police involved.
“Communities across the world have not always had policing,” meeting co-facilitator Kerry O’Connor said. “Many do not involve it now, and many have been re-imagining public safety for many years, so in Austin, we know that it is possible to take a step back, reflect and chart a path forward to try new ways of addressing community problems holistically.”
The city will consider the reported answers as they make changes to how public safety is promoted within Austin, District 9 council member Kathie Tovo said.
“Austin is in the process of significant transformation with regard to public safety,” Tovo said. “This work is hard, it’s complex, it’s emotional and please know that as we continue this journey together, I’m committed to listening and creating a future with all that is just and equitable and fair.”
Participant Francesca Moree said she was interested in seeing how Austin can further develop crisis lines for concerns such as mental health distress calls or domestic violence cases.
“What can be re-imagined is this idea of law enforcement as a response to crisis (and) police officers being the only tool that we have in these crisis situations for immediate response.” Moree said.
Moree said for many of the situations posed, calling 911 wasn’t the only option.
“There have been very clear alternatives to calling law enforcement,” Moree said.
Deanna Vereb, a participant who is the mother of a student living in West Campus, said the community needs to come together and support each other to promote safety.
“I would like to see the City Council and the police department and (the UT Police Department) and the social workers and everyone who is truly concerned for your community truly come together and support each other … and work together,” Vereb said.
Moree said when transforming the idea of public safety, Austin should seek to invest in preventative programs.
“Our city has an amazing opportunity to take money away from (the Austin Police Department) and invest in systems that will take away the opportunity for these situations to happen,” Moree said. “That’s the real promise, and that is what we should be doing when we are re-imagining public safety.”