AUSTIN (KXAN) — The Austin Police Department (APD) is working with other city departments as well as outside groups on ways to curb crime at Givens Park.
Givens Park is on East 12 Street in east Austin.
While it’s been the location for several shootings – some deadly – it’s also a fixture in the community. The park received an award in September 2022 for having a strong community impact for six decades.
The park is in Council Member Natasha Harper-Madison’s district – where she herself was born and raised.
“Like so many others, Givens Park was a staple of my childhood. On Sunday mornings, my mother would gather our family together for two events: praying at church and playing at Givens,” she said.
Others have similar ties.
“I grew up here,” said Ray “Mitt Master” Williams. After serving time in prison, he returned to the community with a mission to keep people who hang out at Givens Park out of trouble.
He does that through boxing.
“It’s not just boxing, it’s a mind program as well,” he said. “If the kids don’t do right, I don’t train ’em. If they’re being bad at home and the parents tell me, I don’t train ’em.”
APD, the Parks and Recreation Department (PARD), the Office of Violence Prevention and Texas State University want to get more input from people like Williams about the best path forward for a safer park.
“More importantly than just curbing crime is identifying the problems,” said Sgt. Rafael Kianes.
The multi-disciplinary approach is using what Kianes explained as the “SARA” model, an acronym for “Scan. Analyze. Respond. Assess.” We’re currently in the “scanning” phase.
“Identifying key problems, utilizing not just crime data – but also information from the community. So we’re working on surveying the community so we can find where there could be causes for concern,” said Sgt. Kianes. “In historical policing, you might think you know what the problem is, but when you start really going through and working with the community – you’ll identify there are other drivers of where your problems are.”
The Parks and Recreation Department told KXAN in a statement it’s “working cooperatively with the community, OVP [Office of Violence Prevention] and APD to determine appropriate interventions to maximize safety at the park.”
“Community engagement is a critical factor in the Givens Park Collaborative,” said a spokesperson for the Office of Violence Prevention. “The Collaborative is working to develop a survey to receive further input. A link to the survey will be shared once it is live. The results of this survey will guide the Collaborative’s future efforts.”
The partnership with Texas State includes an academic approach to measure what the community thinks are the best ways to address crime.
“Police can’t and shouldn’t be this ever-present thing so if you want long-term, sustainable impact, you do need the community to buy in,” said Sean Roche, a Texas State professor involved with the project.
Williams is looking forward to seeing how the program pans out and believes a key factor in park safety is bringing more organized activities to people who frequent the park, similar to a boxing event he tries to host on a regular basis.
“People are just around enjoying themselves, no violence, no gunplay,” he said.