AUSTIN, Texas (FOX 7 Austin) - The Austin police gang and narcotics units have started patrolling downtown to help cut down on violent crime after five shootings during one weekend of South by Southwest.
“In Austin, Texas, there is one entertainment district,” said Bob Woody who owns multiple businesses downtown. "There is one. It is 6th Street."
Venues on 6th Street attract crowds of visitors every weekend, even more so during the South by Southwest conference and festivals, but this year one of Austin’s biggest events attracted something else too: violence.
“It's a large event that people could be traveling to cause problems with,” Woody said. "Maybe at one time that wasn't the case, but I think we're a little bit there now."
“We had 176 cops, just on 6th Street alone, and someone got shot right in front of us,” said Assistant Chief Justin Newsom with the Austin Police Department.
That was one of the five shootings that weekend which convinced Austin Police Chief Brian Manley to beef up the number of officers patrolling downtown moving forward.
“We flood the exterior, we flood the interior and our officers are looking for people who are acting out, taking enforcement action, and looking for folks that have guns on them,” Newsom said.
The gang unit arrested two people for possession of guns and cocaine last weekend. One of them at Teji's Restaurant, the other in a car on the I-35 service road.
“The last several years, we've had multiple gun involvements in and around 6th Street,” said Newsom.
Woody said adding more patrol officers there on weekends does make a difference, and he's happy with APD's commitment to secure Austin’s entertainment district.
“We all should work together to protect it,” Woody said.
To do their part, downtown business owners are working with the city to come up with ways to prevent violence during next year's festival, while also trying to be realistic that any event that brings thousands of visitors to Austin likely will also attract a few criminals.
“These issues that took place, they didn't take place in the clubs,” said Woody. "They just went to where it was really busy and they did their bad stuff."
Austin police officers are not only focused on 6th Street itself. They are also adding patrols in downtown parking lots and frontage roads where they say violence is more likely to occur as people are leaving the area.
APD’s initiative is expected to last another three weeks.