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Austin PD, other departments seeing an increase in officers resigning and retiring

Last year in 2021, 210 Austin police officers retired or resigned. That’s as many as the previous two years combined.

AUSTIN, Texas — Tom Hugganet reflects on a career spanning more than two decades with the Austin Police Department (APD). He was an APD district representative, helping settle neighborhood disputes and connecting citizens to resources.

“It was probably one of the most rewarding positions I had," said Hugganet. 

But that changed for Hugganet in 2020 after the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis drew the ire of police protestors, and civil rights advocates called for cuts in police funding.

“After having gone through the riots, and the defund movement that shortly came thereafter, my unit was cut,” said Hugganet.

Hugganet was put back on patrol until he decided to retire last year. Now with 19 of his former colleagues indicted, he believes he made the right decision at the right time.

“To see then later, officers indicted for doing the job they number one were ordered to do with the equipment they were given, and it just does not seem that this is the type of justice that I signed on to when I was hired," he said.

Last year in 2021, 210 Austin police officers retired or resigned. That’s as many as the previous two years combined: 142 in 2020, up from 68 in 2019. That’s a 209% increase during the last three years.

The head of the Austin Police Association, Ken Casaday, said the department is recruiting to replace those officers but the indictments aren’t helping.

“You know after the indictments we’re seeing people who were considering coming here to be a police officer not doing that, and going backing out and going to other places,” said Casaday.

RELATED: Austin police moves 69 officers from support units to patrol unit

There wasn’t an immediate spike in officers leaving following the February indictments but Casaday said the department is already spread too thin.

“Right now we’re sitting at about 1,600 officers which is about 400 fewer than we need," he said.

He also said that affects their ability to respond to violent crimes.

“You know easily three, probably five officers responding to a shooting or a stabbing and having just one officer [go] to something like that is extremely dangerous to the officer," Casaday said.

Fewer officers also means less traffic enforcement. Last month the KVUE Defenders showed how traffic citations have dropped 69% during the last two years.

RELATED: Traffic tickets sharply decline as Austin's deadly wrecks reach record high

Austin Police Chief Joseph Chacon said the department is strategizing ways to maximize the force they have.

“I’ve got to build greater training capacity. I want to have multiple classes that are going at the same time so that we can make an impact overall on the number of vacancies that we have.”

But not everyone is convinced fewer officers on the streets is a bad thing. 

“I think really what we have to do when we hear about a staffing shortage is, question what it is that APD is saying they need to achieve that they can’t. And are they deploying their people in the best way to achieve those things," said Chris Harris with the Austin Justice Coalition. 

Other police departments in the Austin area are also seeing more officers retire or resign.

Round Rock, Georgetown, and San Marcos police departments are among those seeing an increase in officers retiring or resigning since 2019 along with the Travis County and Williamson County sheriff’s offices.

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