Safe and Dangerous Places in Austin
Among cities with populations of more than 100,000 residents, Austin, Texas, is considered one of the safest in the United States, according to The Federal Bureau of Investigation's Uniform Crime Statistics report reviewing statistics for 2009.
But even cities like Austin with safe areas can have a dark side. In this city of 680,899, there are neighborhoods where violent crime thrives. So, it's best to know the safe areas and the areas to avoid in Austin.
Safe Places in Austin
The safest areas in Austin are concentrated along the west side of town, with the Cuernavaca Road area near Emma Long Park reporting only six criminal offenses in 2009. The offenses consisted of thefts and non-indexed crime, with no reports of violent crime, according the Austin Police Department's crime by zip code indicator. Located near Lake Austin, the relative safety and rolling Hill Country make this area popular with bicyclists, runners and outdoor enthusiasts.
Near the western city limits of Austin, Steiner Ranch near Quinlan Park Road comes in second for Austin safe places, with 19 reported criminal offenses, only one of which was a violent-crime robbery. The area is characterized by high, limestone bluffs and proximity to Lake Austin near Lake Travis on the Lower Colorado River, making it popular with outdoor enthusiasts.
Bear Creek, west of Oak Hill, is a relatively rural enclave, and it is not unusual to see cattle and horses grazing on the hillsides. This area reported only 36 criminal offenses, one of which was aggravated assault.
Bell Mountain is a rugged, tree-covered Hill Country enclave between Lake Austin and Ranch Road 2222. The area reported 166 instances of criminal conduct; three were violent, including two aggravated assaults and one rape.
(Note: Communities such as Village of Westlake, City of Rollingwood, City of Lakeway, Village of Bee Cave, Manchaca, Buda and Manor report low incidents of crime, but are not included in these statistics, as they are considered separate municipalities.)
Despite the relative safety of the city compared to others of its size, Austin has not kept pace with the nation in the overall decline of criminal activity. Nationwide, incidents of violent crime from 2008 to 2009 dropped 5.5 percent, compared to Austin's increase of 2 percent.
"Crime has increased with Austin's booming population (the city doubled in size from 1990-2000), coupled with the recent downturn in the economy," according to Austin Police Chief, Art Acevedo. With the exception of auto theft and robbery (which spike between 4PM and 6PM), incidents of criminal activity increase between 11PM and 3AM.
Areas to Avoid in Austin
Savvy visitors should be aware that there are areas to avoid in Austin. Austin's Pleasant Valley area reported 14,814 criminal incidents in 2009. 560 of those crimes were violent, including 29 rapes and four murders, making Pleasant Valley the highest-ranked area for rape and murder in Austin.
The Walnut Creek area near North IH-35 and Parmer Lane reported 13,835 criminal incidents, including two murders, 21 rapes, 204 counts of aggravated assault and 218 robberies. This area also reports the highest number of car thefts.
In the Downtown Entertainment District between IH-35 and Lamar Boulevard, 12,310 criminal incidents were reported. Violent offenses included one murder, 27 rapes, 68 robberies and 104 aggravated assaults. This popular area is home to tourist and student nightclubs along 4th and 6th Streets.
Recent physical altercations with panhandlers in the Entertainment District have city leaders rethinking policy on this practice. Panhandling is not illegal in Austin, but it is against city ordinance for panhandlers to block your passage or make physical or aggressive contact with you. Such activity should be reported to the police.
When dealing with panhandlers, the Downtown Austin Alliance recommends that visitors be courteous. Acknowledge the panhandler's request by politely saying, "No, thank you," and then move on.
The DAA also recommends that if a panhandler is selling the Austin Advocate, you might consider buying one. This newspaper is sponsored by Austin's House the Homeless and is written and illustrated by Austin homeless people.
Mid-South Austin between South Lamar Boulevard and South Congress near Oltorf reported 10,989 criminal offenses, including one murder, 22 incidents of rape, 77 robberies and 82 reports of aggravated assault.
Garrison Park area near Crockett High School and Stassney Lane reported 10,629 criminal charges. Violent crimes included two murders, 18 rapes, 94 robberies and 117 aggravated assaults.
Advice and Action from Law Enforcement
The City of Austin staffs police patrols based on the likelihood of crime occurring, with higher concentrations in areas known to cause problems.
In 2000, the APD created Downtown Area Command, a special unit concentrating on the area between Town Lake, IH-35, Lamar Boulevard and 29th Street. The unit consists of street responders, detectives and mounted patrols. Officers on horseback are particularly useful in crowd control.
DAC works in conjunction with the Austin Downtown Rangers. The Rangers are APD employees but are not commissioned police officers. Rangers don't carry weapons or make arrests, but they are a visible presence designed to deter crime. Rangers are issued communication devises connected to APD Dispatch for quick response in case of an emergency. Rangers patrol on foot and on bicycle from 6:30AM to 10PM, Monday through Saturday.
"We are using cameras downtown and have set up an information sharing center to help prevent and identify crime," says Acevedo, adding that he is pushing for harsher punishment for violent offenders.
Even in the low-crime, safe areas of Austin, many offenses are crimes of opportunity," says FBI Special Agent S. E. Marshall. "Always be aware of your surroundings. Try to appear confident with your chin up and shoulders straight. When walking after dark, travel in pairs or in a group, especially in the downtown Entertainment District. If at all possible, avoid high crime areas, especially after dark."
Marshall also recommends dressing down and blending in when you're in neighborhoods with a bad reputation. "Be alert and ready to react to suspicious looking people or situations," he says. "Austin is a great place to live, but like any other city, you have to be aware."
Can't Get Enough? Discover More of Austin
- Overview:Austin Travel Guide