It's considered one of the safest big cities in the country, but that hasn't slowed the concern over APD shortages.
“This is not a sleepy, little college town anymore,” said Fred Burton, the Vice President of Intelligence for Statfor, a global security firm.
A former police officer and US Secret Service official, Burton pointed to increased response times in the face of a rapidly increasing population, as a dangerous combination.
“When you dial 9-1-1, and you have to wait for a long time to get there, that doesn't distill a lot of confidence in public safety in Austin,” said Burton.
Last year, violent crime rose 11 percent compared to 2015. So far, violent crime is up another 3 percent this year. While the overall rates are still far lower than other major Texas cities - Burton said the pattern needs to be addressed.
“You have to be able to nip trends whether that be sex assaults, burglaries. Burglaries can turn into sex assaults - sex assaults can turn into murders,” Burton said.
The Matrix Consulting Report, a taxpayer-funded study requested by the city of Austin, showed a proactivity level (21.7 percent) well below what's recommended (35 percent) for a department this size.
“Your ability to get out of the police car, to talk to the local kids at a playground, to visit with a local business, to just stop and chat with people in all walks of life is critical not only to build up that trust in the community, but also to let the folks know that you really care and that you’re listening,” said Burton.
“Actual time they have to build meaningful relationships in the community, to attend community meetings, to meet with community leaders, to stop at that park and throw a football with a kid - all the things that we think are so important,” explained interim Police Chief Brian Manley.
With the current staffing levels, Manley says they’ve had to stretch resources.
It's a priority for interim Chief Brian Manley, who explained the department has had to stretch resources with the vacancies.
“We re-assigned detectives from across the department to actually go out and work on patrol,” said Manley.
While the strategy kept officers on the street, it delayed caseloads for those detectives.
“We focus on data-driven policing, putting the resources where they're going to have the best impact. Like most communities, you're going to have a disproportionate number of your crimes occurring in a small segment of your city, so it's focusing the resources in those neighborhoods to really try and bring down the crime rate in those neighborhoods,” Manley explained.
However, help is on the way.
“The department has 94 vacancies right now in between the two cadet classes that are seated at this moment, there are 96 cadets within those two classes,” said Manley.
That's been accomplished in part by enhanced recruiting efforts and a streamlined application process.
Those two classes are expected to graduate in December. Factoring in average monthly attrition (which Manley pegged at four to five officers), that would put APD with about 15-20 expected vacancies remaining – a major step forward compared to past staffing levels.
Burton explained that allowing officers to stick to their assigned roles – instead of being shifted to cover shortages – will also enhance the capabilities of the department.
While the graduations are expected to fill nearly all openings, the efforts to staff a growing department will continue. The Matrix Report called to grow the department further, with increased hires in 2018-2020.
Manley said the officers followed all but one of the recommendations offered in the Matrix report – the lone one focused on tracking volunteer hours for officers, which APD officials feared could interfere with the Fair Labor Standards Act.
“We have already implemented many of the (recommendations), and the remaining are either in progress or planned to be implemented. Where we’re at now is we’re working with the community, because this is what meant to be a project involving the community so we’re reaching out to our community groups. We’re going to form a stakeholders group that we’re going to be working with as we do what we think is right. We have ideas on each and every one of these recommendations. There are several, however, the value of community involvement and community input will allow us to have a better product on the back-end,” said Manley, who said this process will be taking places over the next several months.
He was unable to comment on budget negotiations with Austin City Council since they are currently ongoing.
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