AUSTIN, Texas — “We want and need you.”
That's Dallas Mayor Eric Johnson’s message to Austin police officers considering retirement as the police union remains at odds with the City of Austin over contract negotiations.
“If you work for Austin PD, are still interested in protecting and serving, and are considering retiring from the profession, don’t,” Johnson said in a tweet on Saturday morning. “Come work for the residents of @CityOfDallas by joining @DallasPD. We want and need you. #BigDallasEnergy”
The Dallas mayor’s recruitment push comes as the City of Austin and the Austin Police Association (APA) fight over a new police union contract. APA leaders have claimed that going out of contract would cause major problems for the police department, including making staffing shortages worse. The APA said the Austin Police Department could have to temporarily suspend some police units, which could cause a mass retirement of officers.
Last week, a new measure was put in place to make sure officers keep getting salaries and benefits if the current contract lapses. The current contract is set to lapse at the end of March.
The APA has said it will not negotiate a one-year employment contract, which was preferred by the Austin City Council. The police union is pushing for a four-year contract it already negotiated with the City. But councilmembers want to wait on approving that contract until after a May election, when Austin voters will have a say on two competing police oversight ballot initiatives.
On Monday, Austin Mayor Kirk Watson responded to Johnson’s offer, saying, “Police officers in Austin are the highest paid in the state, and experienced officers here are making, on average, 17% more than they would in Dallas. When you look at the compensation numbers side by side, it begs the question: who really values officers more?”
Watson said it is important to note that law enforcement agencies everywhere are struggling with recruitment and retention.
“It’s not an Austin-specific issue,” Watson said. “The Texas Department of Public Safety is currently down 550 troopers and unable to fill all its recruiting classes, according to testimony from Col. Steve McCraw today in a House committee hearing. Dallas is facing these problems too. This is a systemic problem in law enforcement that requires a much more thoughtful and nuanced discussion than we’re having here.”
According to the Dallas Morning News, the Dallas Police Department is facing an ongoing hiring crisis. The department’s goal this year is to hire 300 officers after losing about 236 in the last fiscal year. Currently, about 27% of the Dallas police force is eligible to retire.
According to the Austin Police Retirement System, at least 77 Austin officers are currently poised to retire by the end of March. In the past few years, the highest that number has gotten between January to March is 44.
Right now, more than 200 APD officers could retire immediately or buy a special credit to become eligible for retirement.