On Friday, the Austin Police Department began enforcing Operation Safe Passage, an initiative that positions extra officers on the east end of Sixth Street.
APD Lt. Christian Malanka said the operation launch was quickened as a result of a video filmed on Jan. 26 that showed two groups of men engaged in a fight near the parking lots close to I-35.
“We’re putting the greatest concentration on areas of high-density parking because those are the areas people are going to travel to after the bars close,” Malanka said.
Malanka said the initiative is meant to help officers better deter or respond to incidents that occur as people return to their cars.
“When anywhere from 20,000 to 60,000 patrons of bars are pushed into the streets at 2 o’clock in the morning, they sort of go all directions,” Malanka said. “The truth is, there is violence associated with large crowd density and high consumption of alcohol.”
Bob Woody, who owns 24 establishments in downtown Austin, including several on Sixth Street, said he believes the time period between 2 a.m. and 3 a.m. is the most risky because the bars start to close, leaving many people out on the streets to linger.
“That’s when you really have to have your head on straight, and, let’s face it, a lot of folks at that point are drunk,” Woody said.
Woody said he believes the increased police presence would help reduce the number of incidents that happen outside of the regularly patrolled area.
“There are about 12 officers dedicated to walking around on Sixth Street between South Congress and I-35 every weekend, but the bad guys know that perimeter, and they hang around outside of the perimeter,” Woody said. “A lot of the incidents take place right outside of that area.”
In addition to the on-foot patrol officers, APD deploys its mounted patrol unit to monitor Sixth Street on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights to help manage crowds.
“Bad people are crazy scared of horses,” Woody said. “If you’ve got a group that’s acting bad and you send a policeman out there, he just blends in with the crowd. But, if you send two horses out there, I guarantee you that crowd will disperse.”
Latin senior Dana Ogrin, an employee of The North Door, said her boss witnessed the Jan. 26 fight, which took place about one block from the venue where she was working. Ogrin said her close proximity to the parking lots is a cause of concern.
“Every Friday and Saturday night, I get off work around 2 a.m., which is always when the droves of people are heading out from Sixth Street and right around the time something like [a fight] would happen,” Ogrin said.
Lt. Troy Officer said the operation is a temporary measure and will cost the department in overtime pay for the officers assigned the task of patrolling east Sixth Street.
“If we had adequate staffing, there would [be] something similar in place permanently,” Officer said.