School of Social Work teams up with APD to stop crimes in Rundberg

Vera Bespalova

Rundberg, a neighborhood just 15 minutes north of campus, is made up of less than five percent of Austin’s population but accounts for 11 percent of its violent crime.

In 2012, Austin Police Department won a $1 million, three-year grant from the U.S. Department of Justice to fund Restore Rundberg, a project to improve safety and reduce crime in the north Austin neighborhood.

“The grant has supported a city partnership with the School of Social Work and the RGK Center for Philanthropy and Community Service at The University of Texas,” said David Springer, director of the RGK Center and professor at the School of Social Work and the LBJ School of Public Affairs.

The RGK Center’s role is to analyze crime data in order to make research-based recommendations to APD so they may better combat crime in the area.

“The north AustinRundberg neighborhood struggles with high crime rates, prostitution, poverty and exposed drug use,” Springer said. “Kids feel pressure to join gangs and too often fall into the school-to-prison pipeline.”

Rafael Kianes, an APD officer who patrols the area, said Restore Rundberg has been successful, largely due to the innovative method of community policing.

“Community policing is more long-term,” Kianes said. “You’re trying to look at underlying issues… and then coming up with solutions for those issues.”

Community policing involves officers patrolling neighborhoods on foot and interacting with citizens to better understand their needs and concerns. Kianes said APD wants to become part of the community so that more lasting, effective changes can be made.

Although the three-year grant ended in November of 2015, Springer said the RGK Center will continue its work through September 2016 thanks to a no-cost extension granted by the City of Austin.

The Project, UT’s annual largest day of service, was held in Rundberg in February. Volunteers worked on renovating community areas in Rundberg, such as schools and gardens. Nutrition junior Maya Rao was a team leader on this year’s project and worked on renovating a science charter school. 

“I think the police can work by looking at what crimes are most relevant in the areas and try to implement preventative measures on high-risk areas and people,” Rao said.

Kianes said Restore Rundberg has been successful because when APD began its community policing, only 40 percent of residents felt safe — now that number is over 74 percent.