Austin police to focus violence intervention program on area near ARCH

Video of a double shooting Sunday morning in downtown Austin is a reminder of the increase in violent crime happening in the entertainment district.

Austin police said they are, and have been, working to proactively get guns out of the hands of criminals before violence occurs, but there are unique challenges downtown because of the high concentration of people there.

"When you consider New Orleans, you say Bourbon Street. When you consider L.A., you think about Hollywood. When you think about New York, you think about Times Square and when you think about Austin, Texas, it’s Sixth Street," said Bob Woody who owns several businesses downtown.  

It’s typically the busiest part of Austin on any given weekend. Sixth Street attracts live-music fans, bar hoppers and entertainment seekers from all over the world. However, the tens of thousands of people who flood the entertainment district downtown also attract something else, crime.

Sunday morning, Austin police responded to a double shooting outside the Austin Resource Center for the Homeless, just one block away from Sixth Street’s busy nightlife. Investigators said two large groups got into a fight that led to a shootout. Two people were hit by bullets, luckily no one was killed. Police are still searching for the suspects.

That block is where officers have noticed a higher number of shootings.  

"One of the areas that we look at is the Seventh Street area, kind of in between Neches and Trinity. There's a large parking lot there that draws some people who tend to loiter a little bit, and there's some after hours clubs in the area that tend to draw that as well. And the ARCH is kind of in the middle of all that," said Austin Police Commander Jeff Greenwalt.

It’s been a focus of the police department’s Violence Intervention Program, which expanded to the downtown district over the summer.

"So that's where we are deploying our resources. This where we're pulling our cameras, that's where we have more eyes and ears on the ground, to try to see where these guns are before they're used in an illegal manner so that we can get them off the street," Greenwalt said.

Just this year, APD has already seized 117 guns that were either being carried illegally or used in an illegal manner downtown. Officers said violent crime has also become more prevalent since the beginning of 2020.

"I don't like the fact that we have this rise of violent crime and I would like to see the numbers go back down again, but, comparatively speaking, we are a safe city when you look at others the same size," said Greenwalt.

Business owners told FOX 7 Austin they believe criminals are taking advantage of the homeless population living near the ARCH and that’s attracting more crime to the entertainment district. "We’re not doing well by our tourists or the folks that work downtown," Woody said.

Although the entertainment district is staffed with more officers in a more concentrated area, police said people should still take their own precautions.

"If you're in the downtown area, we want you to have a good time, but we encourage people to to just be in groups of people who can kind of have each other's back and be aware of your surroundings," said Greenwalt.

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