AUSTIN (KXAN) — The Austin Police Department is kicking off a major project aimed at making the East Riverside area of town safer. The Austin Police Department held a community meeting Wednesday to kick off a community effort to cut down on crime in the Riverside-Oltorf Area.
It’s called the Riverside Togetherness Project. APD received a $1,000,000 Community Based Crime Reduction grant from the U.S. Department of Justice to carry out the project.
Along with asking the community for help, the police department will work with the University of Texas RGK Center for Philanthropy and Community Service, LBJ School of Public Affairs and MEASURE Austin, to come up with innovative ways to fight crime in the area.
Joe Lucky, spokesman for The Buzz Mill, a 24/7 bar and coffee shop just off of East Riverside Drive, says he already sees a lot of police in the area. The Buzz Mill offers anyone in uniform free coffee and sometimes even snacks as a thanks for their service, so he says many officers stop by during the night shift.
“We don’t always have eyes outside on what’s going on and so just having a presence on the inside just makes us feel really comfortable,” Lucky said. He admits as the area around the bar has grown, so have the problems.
“I feel like it’s a whole different Riverside,” he said of all of the growth in the past few years.
Even with a lot of police who care about keeping the area safe, Lucky says he’s happy to hear about the Riverside Togetherness Project and its promise to take a more innovative approach.
He says one of the biggest issues in the area is the growth of homeless camps. The Buzz Mill hosts homeless camp clean up days and is even working to adopt one of the local parks in the area to keep it clean.
“It’s not that we want them to be pushed out, but we want APD to essentially focus on where are they going to go, how can we better facilitate their either movement to a location where they can be taken care of rather than just pushing them out and pushing them into another district and saying, ‘Hey this is your problem now.”
He adds that he knows his team can only get so far without a real, community-wide solution, which is what APD and its partners in the Riverside Togetherness Project hope to accomplish.
APD is comparing the new project to Restore Rundberg, a program that began several years back and was aimed at cleaning up crime in that part of town. APD says Restore Rundberg was funded by the same type of grant that will now fund the Riverside Togetherness Project. Last year, APD told KXAN crime in the Rundberg area had dropped to the lowest the department had seen in years, thanks to that project.