New APD unit aims to reduce Riverside crime through community engagement

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Photo Credit: Steph Sonik | Daily Texan Staff

A new Austin Police Department unit created last month is hitting the streets of Riverside to reduce crime in the neighborhood through large-scale projects. 

RISE, which stands for Region 3 Innovative Safety Engagement, was created as part of the Riverside Togetherness Project. In April, APD received a grant from the U.S. Department of Justice to launch the long-term program, which examines crime in a two-square-mile area of Riverside, where roughly 4% of all crime in Austin occurs.

“We looked at the different hot spot areas in Austin, and we compared current data to historic data and located several hotspots and determined that the most competitive area would be Riverside,” APD grants manager Kyran Fitzgerald said. “Then we met with community members and stakeholders and determined that we would go ahead and submit an application (to the Department of Justice, and) it was successful.”

RISE is a six-officer unit attached to a regular patrol unit, said senior police officer John Nelson. Each of the six officers has one area of responsibility. The six areas are accountability, business engagement, enforcement, community engagement, environmental issues and public relations.

 

Nelson said instead of constantly responding to 911 calls in the area, the RISE unit officers will examine issues, speak with community stakeholders, review crime and call data to identify crime patterns in their area of responsibility.

“In the sector that I worked before, I can go call to call all night long,” Nelson said. “We’re very busy, we’re short-staffed, and we’re dealing with a lot of issues. If I have to run and go to the next (call), frequently we’ll try, but I don’t have time to sit with somebody and provide longer term care.”

Nelson’s area of responsibility, environmental issues, requires that he examine landscaping, lighting and building features that don’t offer natural surveillance or create areas of concealment where illegal activity may occur. 

“We’ll go meet with business owners in an area where we’re noticing a high level of crime, and they can talk about whether or not they have
security measures in place (or) if they want to improve their lighting in a back alley,” Nelson said. “That’s obviously an environmental issue as well.” 

Nelson said part of the unit’s responsibilities include increasing trust between law enforcement and the immigrant population through outreach events that educate immigrants of their rights when calling 911 and reporting crimes. 

Alex Meed, a public affairs graduate student and Riverside resident, said he is glad to see APD investing in community engagement in his neighborhood. 

“I think having engagement from APD would help prevent crime from happening before it actually happens,” Meed said.

Nelson said it’s important for UT students to participate as community stakeholders and report suspicious activity to 911, such as someone trying to open car doors. 

“It’s long-term, and it’s with broader strokes,” Nelson said. “With this unit and other units like it in the city, the hope is that we are making that long-term impact, and then by making that impact, the public feels more safe.”