Austin Police Chief Brian Manley went on the offensive in a press conference today as City Council members discussed a slate of sweeping changes to the Austin Police Department's budget and policy, and hundreds waited to speak to the council on those items.
Manley announced that his department will be adopting new policies in response to widespread protests over police brutality and the deaths of George Floyd and Mike Ramos.
The press conference was held at the Boys and Girls Club of Austin in collaboration with JUST America, a new organization that says it is "[c]hanging the narrative of minorities in America."
Austin, we have appreciated the love and support for what seems like such a short time since we've all come togethe… https://t.co/QDtqHi02un— JUSTAmerica (@JUSTAmerica) 1591680116.0
According to a statement, JUST America presented Manley with four policy changes that could help make Austin a leader in police reform.
The policies Manley pledged to adopt are as follows:
- Restraints or holds of the neck by a person, object or device are banned. Violators will be referred to the department's discipline process.
- Officers are forbidden from intentionally deactivating their body cameras during a critical incident. Violators will be subjected to indefinite suspension.
- Any investigation that reveals an officer intentionally tampered with body cameras will be referred to the appropriate district attorney for review.
- APD must inform Austin City Council and the public via APD's website within 24 hours of policing policy changes or amendments to APD's General Orders.
The leaders of the organization—Eric Brown, Michael Burnet, Ahmed Toure and Nichelle Payne—spoke alongside Manley at the press conference.
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Stephanie Ashworth lived in a neighborhood north of Tarrytown, near W. 35th St. and Balcones Drive the summer of 2013. One of her neighbors wanted to move to a different school district and decided to rent out their home on Airbnb upon leaving.
“We’re like—’ok’—we didn’t know any better,” Ashworth said. “And it was awful.”
Ashworth said guests played loud music, used the pool naked and would return from trips at the lake stumbling drunk out of party buses.
“It ruins your peace of mind where you should be able to have it. Where you should be able to feel safe, where the kids should be able to go out front,” Ashworth said. “And we shouldn't find used condoms, empty beer bottles, the trash, the parking, it's so disturbing.”
Ashworth is now head of the Austin chapter of the Texas Neighborhood Coalition, a statewide group that assists people looking to restrict and regulate short-term rentals in their residential neighborhoods. She talked to Austonia following Airbnb’s announcement this week that it will deploy new anti-party technology in the US and Canada.
The initiative aims to prevent potentially high-risk reservations by being a more robust version of the “under 25” system, which reviews guests under the age of 25 without positive reviews who are booking locally. A similar variation of this system has been piloted in Australia since October 2021 and has resulted in a 35% drop in incidents of unauthorized parties in pilot areas.
Airbnb is hoping for similar success in other regions but noted that there could still be some hiccups once the system is in effect.
“While we are optimistic that this technology will have a positive impact for the safety of our community and our goal to reduce unauthorized parties—we want to be clear that no system is perfect,” Airbnb wrote in a statement announcing the new tech. “We work hard to deter bad actors from using our platform, but ultimately Airbnb is an online platform that facilitates real world connections.”
For Ashworth, this system falls short of what she’d like to see from the company and she’d like for them to be clearer about what constitutes a party in the company’s eyes.
“So I have no doubt that this technology they're touting for the party houses is nonsense,” Ashworth said. “They are not a company that's run with integrity, they're not a good corporate citizen.”
But people will continue to flock to Airbnb as Austin continues to be a major tourist destination with festivals like Austin City Limits and South by Southwest drawing in thousands. Even on a regular weekend pandemic recovery has been in full swing with downtown entertainment districts seeing visits close to 2019 levels.
Ultimately, Ashworth sees room to accommodate tourists while ensuring neighborhoods remain homey for Austinites.
“My personal opinion is the home team comes first,” Ashworth said. “The whole city doesn't need to be turned over to the tourist industry and areas that are zoned residentially should remain for residents. I do understand that we are a tourist destination. But you can have a short-term rental pretty much anywhere in the city except in residential zones.”
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