County commissioners to vote on board to run new Austin sobriety center

The Sobriety Center will take over the Medical Examiner's office on Sabine Street. (KXAN Photo/Paul Shelton)
The Sobriety Center will take over the Medical Examiner's office on Sabine Street. (KXAN Photo/Paul Shelton)

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Instead of taking drunk people to jail, Austin police officers could take them to the sobriety center, which will be located on Sabine Street.

“If you can barely stand and walk in a straight line, that might be it for you,” says Samuel Gozo, who goes out on 6th Street sometimes.

The city saw plenty of drunk people in the spring, when thousands of visitors came to Austin for South by Southwest.

In March 2016,  police say 220 people were charged with public intoxication. With a sobriety center, 160 of them would still have had to go to jail because they face multiple charges, not just public intoxication. But 60 of them would not have been booked.

To compare with a slower month, in August, 161 people were arrested for public intoxication, 48 of them were charged with public intoxication only. And from September 1-14th, 69 people total were arrested for public intoxication with 17 of them charged for public intoxication only.

Just because an officer takes a drunk person to the sobriety center, doesn’t mean that person won’t get a ticket, it’s up to the officer.

“We also want to make sure everyone understands, we’re not decriminalizing intoxication,” explains Assistant Chief Jason Dusterhoft with the Austin Police Deparment. “You still will not be able to come to Austin and be able to sleep it off, there still will be repercussions when we feel it’s needed.”

Taking a drunk person to the hospital or booking them in jail, takes hours. With the sobriety center, it would be closer to 15 minutes, so officers can get back on the streets.

“Why should an officer, who could be taking the time to stop a bar fight, stopping a problem, stopping someone from getting killed in an altercation, versus somebody who can just go to a sobriety center and rest themselves off,” says Gozo.

The sobriety center is expected to open late next year.  The sobriety center will not only be a place for people to sober up, but it will also offer support and encourage treatment for alcoholism.

Before the center can open, the current Travis County Medical Examiner’s office will have to be renovated, which is expected to cost nearly $900,000.

 

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