APD receives extension to spend DOJ grant money to improve safety in Riverside-Oltorf

The Austin Police Department (APD) was given an extension to spend Department of Justice grant money designated to improve safety in the city’s Riverside-Oltorf neighborhood. 

In 2017, the department secured the $1 million federal grant for the Riverside Togetherness Project after an analysis found 4 percent of citywide crime occurred in a two square mile section of the area from 2013 to 2016. 

Tuesday, 42-year-old Olmero Lopez-Santos was shot and killed in a vehicle parked at a shopping center on East Riverside Drive and South Pleasant Valley Road. 

Loan Do works at a nail salon in the shopping complex. She told FOX 7 Austin she is "scared" by the crime in the area. 

"I think that we need more cops," she said. 

Lt. Richard Egal, who oversees the project, said the first few years were focused on research. Then in 2020, they hit a wall with implementation. 

"Due to COVID, the pandemic, the civil unrest, the restructuring of the department," he explained. 

The Region III RISE Team, a six officer specialized unit serving the area, was disbanded in 2021. 

Egal said the unit was disbanded, "due to staffing concerns." He added, "Those positions were sent back to our patrol ranks between 2020 and 2021." 

In 2021 the project was re-evaluated. Egal said it shifted from "more proactive law enforcement" to community policing and engagement. 

Today the department uses the grant money to host free community events, like yoga classes. Two officers have separate walking beats in the area each day. With the extension, the department has through 2023 to spend the grant money. 

Money to fill the shifts with officers on overtime is pulled from the grant, as Egal said the area struggles with routine staffing. 

"We're not typically fully staffed. We have a plan in place where we're using other units to help backfill patrol officers," he said.