AUSTIN, Texas - There’s been an increased police presence in Downtown Austin over the past few weeks. It’s part of a new initiative launched by the Austin Police Department and the Downtown Austin Alliance to get crime under control.
"We just saw it increasing, increasing, increasing over time," said Craig Staley, co-owner of Royal Blue Grocery on Congress Avenue.
Since the pandemic, Staley watched crime in Downtown Austin go from bad to worse.
"Probably hitting a high point sometime in the spring of this year, where there were people stealing in our stores every single day," said Staley.
Shoplifting was happening so often that he actually stopped reporting it.
"Then a couple of our staffers got assaulted during a shoplifting incident, and we started to go, okay, we've got to do something about this," said Staley.
In September, Staley and other business owners put their heads together with Austin police and the Downtown Austin Alliance.
"A result of that call was a special initiative to help improve conditions down here," said Brandon Fahy, Director of Public Space Experience for the Downtown Austin Alliance.
"We’re telling officers, ‘hey, we need you here,’" said Lt. Christopher Juusola with the Austin Police Department.
Over the past several weeks, the Downtown Safety Initiative has been targeting areas where violent crime and drug activity was spiking, thanks in part to input from business owners.
"If they have issues, they let me know, and then we move our resources that way as well," said Juusola. "Things change week to week. It might be somebody throwing rocks through windows one week, it might be a pickpocket the next week, it might be a group of people robbing people on the streets."
For those living and working downtown, the beefed-up patrols seem to be working.
"The past couple of weeks, I would say it is at a manageable level. And it took just a little bit of effort with a beat and a few more patrols down here to make that difference," said Fahy. "People down here are recognized, and they see with their eyes the improvements that have happened."
"The overwhelming response in the last two or three weeks is positive," said Juusola.
Monday afternoon, the Downtown Austin Alliance and Royal Blue Grocery hosted a lunch for Austin police officers, to say thank you.
"We just wanted to make this small token of appreciation," said for everything that they're doing for us," said Fahy. "We're hoping to see the pendulum swing the other way now."