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City office working to prevent violence

Wednesday, March 23, 2022 by Jo Clifton

Austin is seeking strategies to prevent gun violence, help at-risk young people avoid the pitfalls associated with violence, and assist victims of trauma. It’s all the job of the Office of Violence Prevention, which is a part of Austin Public Health.

Michelle Myles, manager of the violence prevention office, briefed City Council at Tuesday’s work session about the plans her office has for addressing these challenging issues.

Council’s Public Health Committee has already approved a resolution directing the city manager to provide recommendations on the feasibility of operating a trauma recovery center. The trauma center will require help from community organizations and cost upward of $1 million. The city will be looking for grant money to address this issue as well as others.

Myles reported that her office, which was established in June 2021, is now fully staffed with a budget of $2,479,000. Youth programs are funded at $786,344 and the safe gun storage campaign at $180,000.

Preventing gun violence,  particularly downtown and in hot spots such as Givens Park, is high on Council’s list of urgent concerns. Council Member Natasha Harper-Madison became emotional when talking about violence and its relationship to poverty in her district.

Council Member Chito Vela responded, “It’s really difficult, I think, to address violence in isolation outside of the kind of broader social factors that are really pushing people to the edge and sometimes over it unfortunately, as we saw on Sixth Street.”

Vela told his colleagues he was downtown Saturday night for a show and left the area perhaps 10 to 15 minutes before the shooting occurred. “And I can tell you right now, I’ve never seen more police on Sixth Street. They were out in force – for good reason, no question about it.” He pointed out that the shooting, in which four people were injured, was the second in less than a year.

Myles said her department is working to educate the community about de-escalation and conflict mediation. Another project of her office, the Austin Violence Prevention Project, seeks to reduce gun violence through a contract with the National Institute for Criminal Justice Reform.

Council Member Kathie Tovo, whose district includes downtown, pointed out that Council had already passed a resolution directing the city’s legal staff to brief Council on what actions the city might take against establishments that have a record of violence. She posted her thoughts on the City Council Message Board and reiterated the need to come up with comprehensive strategies for making Sixth Street safer. Tovo added that Austin Police Association President Ken Casaday has asked if it might be possible to reinstate a curfew for juveniles; however, she said the general consensus was that such a curfew would not solve the violence problem.

Photo by Tony Webster, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons.

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