2 deadly shootings in 24 hours: Austin focuses on violence prevention but police say they’re short-staffed

Austin

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Two deadly shootings in the last 24 hours pushed Austin’s homicide count for the year to 41. Last year, the city didn’t hit that mark until October.

While police officers say they need more manpower, the city is putting that money into new violence prevention efforts.

Wayne Manor has been visiting Givens Park everyday for more than five years now — even after his dialysis appointments three days a week.

“I come here early in the morning, about seven, to get some fresh air, and I leave about seven in the evening before the sun goes down because a lot of things be going down,” Manor said.

He usually sits alone because he feels safer that way.

“I get along with everybody, you know, I’m not the trouble type of dude, nothing like that. I see it coming, I get out the way,” Manor says.

He feels crime has increased at the park. Austin senior patrol office Demitri Hobbs agrees.

“Givens Park has been a place where it comes and goes and has its times… its good times and its bad times and right now, it’s in its bad times,” Hobbs said after responding to a fatal shooting near the park Wednesday night.

He says APD has increased patrol to the area but they’re low on officers.

Hobbs said the same thing less than eight hours later at the scene of a different deadly shooting just northeast of the park on East Meadow Bend Drive.

“The chief has been working on violent crimes initiatives to get more officers to do work on patrol and get out and do these initiatives to curtail crime and it’s hard when we don’t have enough officers,” he said.

A neighbor says a bullet from Thursday morning’s shooting on East Meadow Bend Drive tore through her car. (KXAN Photo/Tahera Rahman)

The City has rerouted nearly $2 million from the police budget to violence prevention programs.

The White House thinks that’s the right approach — praising the flow of funding toward community interventions before crime happens.

“They intervene before it’s too late,” said President Joe Biden as he unveiled his strategy to respond to gun crime on Wednesday. “And it works. Community violence intervention programs have shown a reduction in violence up to 60% in many places.”

Just this month, the city hired a program manager responsible for shaping those violence prevention strategies.

Manor says he respects that police have a job to do but thinks they react and overreact when it comes to crime calls. He thinks reinvesting some money into prevention programs is a good idea.

“I’m thinking it would be alright, to take it from the police funding,” he says.

He’ll be watching it all from his seat at Givens Park.

“I’ll be coming ’til I die, I guess,” he says.

In 2019, there were a total of 36 homicides in the city of Austin. There were 33 in 2018, so the trend of homicides in the city appears to be going up.

However, Austin is still well below the number of reported homicides from the 1990s when Austin’s population was hovering around 600,000 — we are now closer to a million.

Office of Violence Prevention (OVP)

Michelle Myles, Office of Violence Prevention Manager, says OVP is currently working on a safe gun storage initiative expected to launch this summer.

In an email to KXAN, she says they are also reviewing recommendations from the Reimaging Public Safety Task Force and technical experts to determine other programs.

Myles says that in this initial year, funding has only been allocated for those technical experts to help develop the OVP and data analysis for pilot programs.

In response to concerns of APD being short-staffed, Myles says her office’s goal is “to work as part of an ecosystem to prevent violent acts reducing the need for APD intervention” and they hope to work with APD to meet that goal.

“OVP and APD want the same thing to make Austin a safer city for all its citizens. OVP takes a public health approach by addressing root causes of violence and applying interventions that will have a downstream impact,” she wrote.

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