Problems in the park

Playground equipment had been left empty this spring as the increasing fear of crime was keeping families away from Galloway Park, but local residents hope that is changing. -- Eric Johnson/

One nighborhood in Austin has its park back from a string of shady activity after one mother took a stand

Anybody who lives in one southwest Austin neighborhood knows just how hectic problems at Galloway Park have been, but those troubles may be over.

Now, that community is once again enjoying its neighborhood.

Playground equipment had been left empty this spring as the increasing fear of crime was keeping families away from Galloway Park, but local residents hope that is changing.

During the past years — at certain times more than others — issues were well documented in the park. Many residents say drug dealing and liquor consumption were obvious. Locals complained about youngsters, ages 11 to at least 21, staying after hours, harassing park goers and residents and blocking the streets. Some remember a garbage fire last fall, a crowd that formed for a fight this spring, and even someone cat-calling at an elderly lady.

One woman had enough.

“I was just fed up,” said Terrie Hallman, who has lived across the street for 12 years.

Hallman watched as police increased patrols in the area while suspicious activity reached its highest point this spring.

“There would be some days I would tell them, ‘no, you can’t go,’” Hallman said about allowing her children at the park.

Well aware of what was happening, Hallman grabbed her video camera. She recorded swearing, gang signs and plenty of activity a woman living with a husband and four children across the street doesn’t want to see. It worked.

Hallman showed the video to police and even KAAL TV, which put footage on air. One day later, the park was more like it should be: quiet and peaceful. City workers removed a graffiti-carved picnic table that day — a popular spot for suspected crime — and that has seemed to help, as well.

Kim Underwood, Austin Parks and Recreation Director, said other neighborhoods deal with park problems from year to year, too — especially in the spring. But nothing like Galloway’s problems this spring.

“We had a lot of calls for that park,” she said.

Underwood, like others, is now hearing how the park is improving. However, those who see it every day can really tell what difference a couple, simple initiatives have made.

“You really can’t believe how much it changed in one day,” said Terrie’s husband, Bill Hallman.

Residents are slowly letting their children return to the park, but not all of them. Some still fear crime may remain in the neighborhood — like one woman who still refuses to let her son go. Police Capt. Dave McKichan hopes that changes.

“I’m hopeful that some of these issues have resolved,” he said.

McKichan added a community looking out for itself, notifying authorities and working together is the strongest defense against crime.

“That’s the biggest thing,” McKichan said. “It’s got to be a partnership.”

Now some locals shine spotlights on the park when people are there after hours, and they call police when something isn’t right. They want Galloway to be enjoyable, clean, and drug- and harassment-free, like dozens of other parks around Austin.

“The bottom line is Austin has a great park system, and we want everybody to be able to use it,” McKichan said.

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