AUSTIN, Texas — At any given time, there are not enough patrol officers to fully staff every part of Austin.
Staffing issues have plagued the Austin Police Department for the past two years.
But now, top brass told the KVUE Defenders that they're moving more personnel from specialized units, like homicide and SWAT, to fill patrol vacancies.
The APD is supposed to have 1,809 officers, as that's how many sworn positions it's authorized for. But as of July 18, there are only 1,550 officers, a deficit of more than 250 positions.
Investigative Reporter Jenni Lee asked APD Assistant Chief Jerry Bauzon about how bad the situation is, asking, "Are we in a crisis right now?"
"Yes, absolutely. We are in a crisis right now," said Bauzon. "I think citywide and, again, nationwide, world, everyone that works in public safety is seeing the same human resource crisis as we're experiencing ... [like those in] communications. They're leaving for other jobs because, again, of the stress and other reasons."
The department's goal is to maintain an 80% patrol staffing rate.
"...because that would allow for officers to take vacation, to call in sick and for any sort of training," said Bauzon. "So, taking all of that into consideration, we knew as a police department with very limited resources that we needed to come up with a plan to put more bodies on the street. This would ensure that officers remain safe with backups and that they were able to respond to 911 calls in a timely manner."
As a result, Bauzon said 465 nonpatrol officers, detectives and corporals from specialized units like Homicide, Robbery, Aggravated Assault, Child Abuse and SWAT, will help fill patrol vacancies.
"Where we're seeing the biggest need is our evening shifts, which usually start between around 12, noon, and they may go to 4 a.m. in the morning," Bauzon said.
Several other specialized units, like the Motors and DWI Units, were temporarily suspended in 2021 to help fill patrol vacancies. Those officers are still working patrol shifts. The latest proposal is part of that original plan.
APD has been offering double overtime to officers to fill patrol vacancies for overnight shifts, a plan that still has its critics.
Ken Casaday, president of the Austin Police Association, said it's very disappointing. He blames the need for this plan on city council members who, in 2020, voted to cancel three police academy classes.
As a result, Casaday said the department won't be able to catch up on staffing for another six to eight years. Now, he said the public will pay the price.
"You know, you've had a loved one that's been shot or abused by a stranger or sexually abused by a family member, and you call that detective and they tell you he or she is not able to answer the phone. Can they call back next week or the week after because they're out answering 911 calls for the next two weeks," Casaday said.
Casaday also said the department will soon need to look at the plans.
"I think we're getting close to needing to come to some kind of a resolution with the sheriff's department and maybe DPS. You know, Dallas had the situation a few years back and they had to bring in state troopers from all over the state of Texas to work to answer 911 calls in Dallas for an extended period of time," Casaday said.
But for now, Casaday said he ultimately supports Chief Joseph Chacon's decision because, right now, there are no other options.
The main priority for all officers is to take 911 calls. Bauzon said he hopes this plan improves response times.
We asked APD for response times for a busy day and a slow day. Fridays are typically busier for patrol officers, so response times are longer.
Take a look at Friday, July 15:
- Total calls: 868
- Average response time: 37:37
Sundays are typically slower for patrol officers, so response times are quicker.
Take a look at Sunday, July 17:
- Total calls: 831
- Average response time: 31:53
Bauzon said all detectives will continue working their cases while they fill in on patrol shifts, but he has a message for the public.
"We are still committed to bringing justice to you, to your loved ones and to the community. Those cases are still being worked, and we're trying to limit the effect that this patrol backfill will have on those units ... we understand that your cases are important, but again, please have patience with us," Bauzon said.
Bauzon also said the department has brought back its Street Detective Program.
"So, for instance, if you were the victim of a theft, a street detective would show up, gather whatever evidence you had, video tools of the crime, instruments of the crime, and take your statement that way. All of that work was done on the front end," Bauzon said.
The department has started sending out notices to affected officers. The plan starts on Aug. 28.
Officers in two units won't have to take part in working patrol, the Executive Protection Unit and those who work at the Austin airport. The Executive Protection Unit provides security for the mayor and the city manager. Meanwhile, the officers at AUS are federally funded.
The KVUE Defenders also wanted to see which part of town carried the most vacancies.
Austin police divide the city into 10 sectors. As of July 21, officer vacancies are the following (airport data is not included):
- Adam: 18
- Baker: 13
- Charlie: 11
- David: 12
- Edward: 26
- Frank: 14
- George: 10
- Henry: 10
- Ida: 9
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