AUSTIN, Texas — City of Austin police officials and council members are taking steps to improve public safety in the downtown entertainment district near Red River Street, but business leaders in the area are not just sitting around waiting to see changes.  

  • Business owners taking matters into their own hands
  • Working with nonprofit to provide free training to staff
  • Training covers areas like mental illness, substance use, sexual harassment

After a recent rash of crime, Austin Police reduced the size of the response area in Downtown staffing and maxed out staffing on every shift. The City Council in August voted to expedite some infrastructure improvements in the district, like adding lighting, trash receptacles, lighting, and as well as fixing sidewalks. They are looking to speed up the installation of a fence to an alley, known for illicit activity. Meanwhile, members of the Red River Cultural District are coming together to do their part to make music venues and other businesses safer. 

District leaders have been partnering with groups like the nonprofit SIMS Foundation to provide free training to staff about mental illness, substance use disorders, and sexual harassment. 

“When I came to the industry 20 years ago, addiction was celebrated as a partying and being really good at having a fun time. Mental illness was celebrated as being really quirky and idiosyncratic. Twenty years later and three dozen friends that have passed, these aren’t the cases,” Cody Cowan, executive director of the Red River Cultural District said. “We’re excited that SIMS will bring that training to us, so that our entire industry of workers and staff and of course the experiences of the people that are coming to this venues can be healthy, more helpful, more professional and more safe.” 

“No one is asking them to be the police of the venues or no one is expecting them to solve all of this but to just to be a piece in that puzzle to try to make that community a safer place to be,” said Patsy Dolan Bouressa, the interim executive director of the SIMS Foundation.  

The district has also been in communication with the leaders of The Salvation Army and Front Steps, the nonprofit running the ARCH. 

They are looking at the ways they can hire some of the clients to work part-time at the venues.