Innovative programs help lower crime in Restore Rundberg area

Restoring RundbergTaber White, senior police officer with the Austin Police Department, said the transformation of the Rundberg neighborhood is evident.

“You have families walking down the street, pushing strollers with toddlers; you have a soccer game at the school; people running at the jogging track at the rec center—that is not the Rundberg that was there seven years ago,” he said.

The Rundberg neighborhood in North Austin has been the focus of a federal grant since October 2012 in an effort to revitalize a neighborhood where 11 percent of the city’s violent crime occurred from 2007-11 despite having only 5 percent of the city’s population, according to the grant application.

But an October 2015 report shows violent crime has dropped since 2012 by 4.5 percent in the grant area and by 15 percent at three crime hotspots.

The grant has allowed APD to implement innovative policing and partner with stakeholders already working to improve the neighborhood. Once grant funding ends in September, APD believes efforts will continue.

“One of the biggest things when we’re looking at sustainability is really focusing on the youth in the area,” White said. “You get somebody in elementary school, and they start making the right decisions. Well now you’ve reduced crime five, 10, 15, 20 years into the future.”

Neighborhood revitalization

In 2012, the city of Austin received a three-year, $1 million grant that was then extended by one year from the U.S. Department of Justice for the Restore Rundberg revitalization project.

The grant has supported a city partnership with the RGK Center for Philanthropy and Community Service at The University of Texas, which is analyzing crime data to make research-based recommendations to APD, said Director David Springer, who is also a professor at The School of Social Work and The Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs. His team is creating a replication guide so the city can revitalize other neighborhoods.

“The thing that’s made [Restore Rundberg] so successful and rewarding is that it’s truly been a community research partnership,” Springer said.

APD’s Mobile Walking Beat officers patrol the streets on set days and times each week in the crime hotspots and connect with residents.

“With community meetings it tends to be a lot of information from the police going out but very little information coming back in; with these mini meetings it’s 50/50,” Senior Police Officer Rafael Kianes said.


Those involved in Restore Rundberg hope the city continues to fund the project’s community engagement coordinator. Kianes said it is also vital to implement programs that cost little or no funds. One of those efforts is the Rundberg Educational Advancement District program that brings together educators, law enforcement and key stakeholders to help youth make better decisions, beautify the area and communicate what the Rundberg community is doing.

“With traditional policing you’ll have an operation. … If you have a place that has place-based crime, that crime comes right back,” Kianes said. “We knew early on that we had to come up with something that was sustainable.”

He said the grant effort has also brought together organizations doing similar revitalization work.

“Instead of reinventing the wheel, a lot of these things that we’ve done is really just find out who’s interested in what and help them out or connect them with someone else,” he said.

One group is the Ken Street Bible Group that began meeting three years ago in a home on Ken Street near Lamar Boulevard to study the Bible and help former gang members and drug dealers change their lives. Group member Abel Lopez, who represents the immigrant community on the Restore Rundberg Revitalization Team, said the Ken Street group uses its experience to work with students in the Rundberg area who might be influenced to join a gang or use drugs.

“It takes a knucklehead to reach a knucklehead,” he said.

Lopez said the city still needs to provide support and resources for low-income families. He volunteers as a big brother to neighborhood children whose parents work multiple jobs.

“Sometimes that’s why they’re not involved with their kids,” he said. “… The absences of parents in kids’ lives affects them the most.”

Restoring RundbergCombined efforts

The Rundberg area has also been the target of other grants and resources. Nonprofit Austin Voices is spending its $2.5 million federal grant on a family resource center at Lanier High School.

Restore Rundberg team member Ann Teich—a member of the North Austin Civic Association, which includes part of the Rundberg neighborhood, and is the Austin ISD District 3 trustee—said FRCs provide social services to families.

“[FRCs are] part of the community-school model that AISD is adopting where we have the wraparound services available at the schools for the parents and the kids,” she said. “It’s a critical piece.”

In 2014, Austin City Council approved purchasing 5 acres at 500 E. Powell Lane to create the Georgian Acres Neighborhood Park. Another park is in the pipeline near charter school IDEA Rundberg.

The college-prep school bought about 20 acres just north of Rundberg on I-35 for its IDEA Rundberg campus and will sell 6 acres to the city for the park.

IDEA’s property was previously a vacant lot that IDEA officials and APD cleaned up. Larkin Tackett, IDEA’s Austin executive director, said the area’s known crime hotspot did not deter IDEA from taking the opportunity to turn the property into a place of learning.

“Only about 5 percent of low-income students in the city graduate from college in six years,” he said. “It’s unacceptable. Those families are concentrated in communities like Rundberg. They need great schools, and we need to be there.”

Teich said pooling resources in areas such as Rundberg has benefits citywide. For example, focusing on healthier residents means fewer people will use emergency services when they do not need to.

“Reducing social service costs benefits everybody,” she said. “Then if we can improve the economics of the area, foster and create small businesses, that increases the contribution to our tax base.”
By Amy Denney

Managing Editor, Austin metro

Amy has worked for Community Impact Newspaper since September 2010, serving as reporter and senior editor for the Northwest Austin edition as well as covering transportation in the Austin metro. She is now managing editor for the 10 publications in the Central Texas area from Georgetown to New Braunfels. She enjoys spending time with her husband, son and two cats.