Austin’s funding application denied for violent crime prevention grant ‘Project Safe Neighborhoods’

Investigations

AUSTIN (KXAN) — The City of Austin is in the process of reviewing more than three dozen funding grants for the Austin Police Department, making sure they’re in line with city council’s new “vision” for policing.

Ahead of Thursday’s city council meeting, $128,019 in funding for the Project Safe Neighborhoods initiative was taken off the agenda altogether, but not because of the grant review process.

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Last week, Austin City Council was set to vote on the Project Safe Neighborhoods grant for the upcoming year, but several council members expressed hesitation with the way the proposal was written. The vote was delayed until this week’s council meeting, so city staff could make changes to the proposal for the use of the funds.

However, before that vote could happen, the U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Texas informed the city their application was not approved.

Project Safe Neighborhoods provides resources for federal, state and local law enforcement to investigate, prosecute and prevent organized crime and gun violence in cities nationwide. City of Austin Grant Manager Kyran Fitzgerald said the program had been operating in Austin for roughly a year, focusing on downtown Austin and the Riverside neighborhood.

“I do think the community will see impacts without this project,” Fitzgerald said. “There’s definitely a need for the work.”

Fitzgerald said their application had actually been denied several weeks ago, but they were just informed on Friday. She said they weren’t necessarily surprised by denial, because the federal grant application process is competitive. She also noted the funding is reviewed and approved by the U.S. Department of Justice Bureau of Justice Assistance, which looks at at several eligibility factors.

According to Daryl Fields, a spokesperson for the U.S. Attorney’s Office, “Applications were submitted to an independent, non-law enforcement committee for review.  The committee’s goal is to determine the best use of the limited grant funding consistent with [Project Safe Neighborhoods’] stated goals and where it will have the greatest impact.”

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Fitzgerald said with active projects, they often look at the amount of funding remaining in the project.

“We did have quite a bit of funding left on the grant, because with COVID, officers weren’t going out and working the grant as much as they could have been in normal circumstances,” she said.

She said because they have an “obligated balance” left on the grant, their award has been extended for the next 12 months. So, for another year, the money will be used to continue violent crime investigations and create public service announcements under the program. Then, Fitzgerald said they plan to apply again.

“We hope that next year we can put forward a stronger proposal,” she said.

City staff are working with council members Kathie Tovo and Natasha Harper-Madison on making changes to the way the program operates now, as well as on next years’ proposal.

City council is still set to vote on several other state grants for the Austin Police Department at Thursday’s meeting.

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