Three years ago, Austin was one of 15 cities to receive $1 million of federal funding for community policing programs to lower crime rates. The three-year program focused on the Rundberg area and, as the program wraps up, those involved with the Restore Rundberg initiative hope it becomes a template for crime-reduction throughout Austin.
When the funding first started back in 2012, the Rundberg neighborhood made up five percent of the city’s population but was responsible for 11 percent of Austin’s violent crime. While some suggested the Austin Police Department step up arrests, UT professor Dr. David Springer says, “You can’t arrest your way out.”
Springer led the team of UT researchers that’s been following the progress of the Restore Rundberg initiative. The main focus was to put in place teams comprised of Austin Police and community members to address underlying issues of crime.
“So, let’s just take homelessness as one example,” says Springer. “There are a lot of reasons an individual may become homeless. Arresting that person and then after some time putting them back on the same street where you arrested them is not going to change that problem.”
The focus has been on having officers walk the street, allowing them to get to know the community, a practice known as community policing. According to Springer’s numbers, since April 2014 violent crime in the neighborhood has dropped roughly 5 percent and property crime has dropped 14 percent. But, the federal funding supporting this program is up in September 2016.
Melinda Schiera, Co-Vice President of the North Austin Civic Association, has lived in the neighborhood since 2011. She says the goal is to find money to keep some of these programs going.
“Really, our community needs an ongoing coordinator to help with community engagement and to analyze what kind of communication our neighborhood needs,” she says.
Schiera worries some positions, like the Community Engagement staff member, won’t continue when the money runs out. The community engagement position is especially important in a neighborhood as diverse as Rundberg. Springer says their next goal is to come up with a how-to guide of sorts, so that other urban neighborhoods might follow Austin’s lead.