Austin's Sixth Street will get a standing EMS staging area

The city has implemented a safety initiative after ambulances had difficulty accessing the bar district area after a mass shooting

Philip Jankowski
Austin American-Statesman

AUSTIN, Texas — Austin is moving on plans to improve safety on Sixth Street — an initiative that came about after a June mass shooting in the downtown bar district, according to a memo from Austin Police Department Chief Joseph Chacon.

A coalition of public safety agencies and city of Austin departments have started work to improve lighting, tamp down underage drinking and create a standing EMS presence in the area on weekends, Chacon said in a memo to the City Council.

Barriers sit on the sidewalk at the 400 block of Sixth Street in Austin, Texas, where a man shot 14 people early on June 12. (file photo)
Barriers sit on the sidewalk at the 400 block of Sixth Street in Austin, Texas, where a man shot 14 people early on June 12. (file photo) (Photo/Aaron E. Martinez/Austin American-Statesman/TNS)

The council ordered the initiative — known as Safer Sixth Street — in late July in the wake of a string of shootings in the Sixth Street area, including the June 12 mass shooting that left one man dead and 13 people injured.

The shooting happened during an altercation between two groups of Killeen teenagers, according to arrest affidavits. A 19-year-old man was later charged in the death of 25-year-old New York native Douglas Kantor.

The incident prompted criticism of the City Council for action in 2020 that restructured the Police Department and brought a halt to several police cadet classes. A voter proposition will come before Austin voters in November that would tie police staffing to population.

Following the string of shootings, the council began exploring ways to address violence and underage drinking on Sixth Street. For decades, the street has been a drinking destination for tourists and Austinites alike that police officers close to vehicle traffic every weekend.

The council directed Chacon and others to study the possibility of reopening the street to vehicle traffic. The memo gives no guidance there, but the resolution calling for the study did not ask for a recommendation to be completed until later this month.

Planning is underway to create a dedicated EMS staging area on Sixth Street on the weekends, the memo states. Immediately after the June shooting, ambulances had difficulty accessing the area and some victims were taken to the hospital in police cars.

Police officials also are working with the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission to prevent underage drinking. The memo states that the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission conducted an operation on Sept. 2 that targeted the use of fake IDs in the area.

The council also directed city staff to examine lighting in the area. Sixth Street already has decorative light poles with LED lights, and Austin Energy has replaced any older style light on cross streets in the area with LED lights.

Providing more light to alleys likely will require cooperation from property owners in the area. There isn't much room for street light poles in those areas and any new street lights would require an infusion of funds, according to the memo.

Council Member Kathie Tovo, whose district includes downtown, said the city needs to continue to approach combatting gun violence with urgency. Tovo said she plans to follow up on ideas staff proposed in the memo, including possibly creating more regulations for downtown bars.

"We are approaching the issue differently than we have in the past, and so that should really make for a more successful process," Tovo said.

The city has created an interdepartmental Safer Sixth Street team that includes representatives of the Police Department, Austin Fire Department, Austin-Travis County Emergency Medical Services and Austin Energy. The city's Entertainment Services Group is leading the process.

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McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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