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Community helps to clean up Dove Springs neighborhood

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Some Austin residents are taking back their neighborhood after getting fed up with all the crime.

In an area known for its gang presence, community policing was key to cleaning up Dove Springs in South Austin.

Frances Acuna likes to work in her front yard. When she does, the mother of three also watches out for suspicious activity.

It's just one of Acuna's crime prevention habits she picked up when she lived on Brassiewood Drive in Southeast Austin. On that street where there's not just one neighborhood crime watch sign, but several, on nearly every home.

It is a project Acuna started and Jeassie Burrell is part of. The 43-year-old father grew up on Brassiewood and talks about crime when he was growing up

"The crime here was so bad, we had a couple of shootings on the next street, the drugs," Burrell said.

Police say the 78744 zip code has a high gang presence. Senior Police Officer, Paula Aguilar, has dealt with several gangs. The combination of gang activity and a high immigrant population can mean crimes don't get reported because residents fear retaliation.

Police say the area has a nickname: The 44.

Senior Police Officer, Anthony Valderas, worked the area for 10 years.

"The 44 is the last two digits of the zip code," Valderas said. "The connotation of that, it is the hood."

Officer Aguilar says all that is changing.

"They're tired and they just want change and they know it does happen and it can happen," Agular said.

Officer Valderas says Austin Police have stepped up.

"We've taken the crime prevention tips and neighborhood watch meetings to the streets," Valderas said.

That may not sound like anything innovative, but for the Dove Springs area it is.

Just like juveniles committing many of the burglaries of homes and vehicles in the area is unique.

"A lot more juveniles are committing the crimes, the juveniles that are skipping school or suspended from school or taking alternative type classes where they don't have to go to school until 12:00 in the afternoon," Valderas said.

On going initiatives target truancy. The city's day time curfew for those 16 and under runs from 9am to 2:30pm. Officers drive around and look for teens not in school.

Valderas says they are also working to change perception.

"The immigrant population sometimes has a fear and distrust of police so what we want to do is change that perception so what we're doing is actually going out into the community, we're talking to their kids, we're talking to them, we're going to town meetings, we're being involved and we're being a presence," Valderas said.

A new room at the Dove Springs Recreation Center is now set aside for police. While it's not manned 24/7, the break room allows officers to write reports, use the restroom, or to have dinner. The room is the result of residents asking for more of a police presence. They hope just having the patrol cars parked outside will deter crime.

Long time resident, Frances Acuna, says she wants other parts of Austin to know that those who live in the 78744 area do care about where they live.

"We don't want the people to think that we don't care, that we are, like Officer Valderas said, 78744," Acuna said. "We want to be somebody, like we are, we have a heart and we just want to feel safe."

Austin police are helping to start a soccer program at the Dove Springs Recreation Center next year.

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