City, County leaders to vote on plans for sobriety center - MyFoxAustin.com | KTBC Fox 7 | News, Weather, Sports

City, County leaders to vote on plans for sobriety center

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People arrested for public intoxication in Travis County may soon avoid jail time. County leaders are set to vote to explore the issue Tuesday.

SXSW keeps officers busy in Downtown Austin, but not because of violent crime.

"P.I. would be the majority of the arrests," said APD Assistant Chief Raul Munguia.

P.I. stands for public intoxication. Right now officers must either turn the drunken person over to a responsible party or take them to jail. That can be a one to two hour process for the class c misdemeanor. Sometimes it can take up to six hours.

"The burden is huge. We have a limited amount of officers that are downtown, limited number of resources we can put downtown," said Munguia.

Last year 3,754 people were booked into the Travis County Jail at a cost of $97 a day. That equals $363,000 a year.

The process is also costly to the hospitals when those arrested must be admitted because they're too drunk for jail.

When people are arrested in Houston for P.I., officers take them to a sobering center. Those admitted stay up to six hours under the watch of medical personnel. When the alcohol wears off, they are given the choice to leave or be taken to a recovery facility. San Antonio does the same.

City and county leaders are asking for permission to explore creating a facility here in Austin.

"We are interested in having that conversation with them," said Munguia.

APD Assistant Chief Raul Munguia sent an officer to tour the San Antonio facility in January. He says the department is open to the idea. He is most interested in the social help component for repeat offenders.

"For public intoxication it's not about punishment. The reason we take custody of a person is because they become a danger to themselves or others," said Munguia.

Munguia says discussions will also include whether to let those arrested go without a citation once sober.

The issue goes before county commissioners on Tuesday. The Austin city council will vote next week.

This issue has gone before county leaders twice before, but failed.

At last estimate in 2011, it would cost $1.7 million to run a facility here in Austin. County leaders are hoping to pay that with grant money.

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