Editor's note: This article was updated to include a comment from the APD.

Austinites seeking to get a better view of Austin Police Department operations and public safety trends in the city will soon have access to extensive monthly reporting on those topics.

What's happening

A request from Council Member Chito Vela to establish what he called the "APD Open Policing Data Release" was approved Sept. 14. Once underway, the new data release practice will see the police department release monthly reports on a variety of information, including crime and police calls for service; police activities, such as arrests and uses of force; and officer staffing and overtime use.

“This is not a groundbreaking item. Other cities—Seattle, San Antonio—have excellent publicly available police data dashboards. What we’re doing today is we’re bringing national best practices to Austin," Vela said Sept. 14. "And this is one of the, I think, rare public safety items that everyone supports."

The framework

Vela said his proposal was originally inspired by data experts in the community who'd spoken to him about issues with compiling relevant information about the police department. He also said his data request was designed to remove any personally identifiable information for those involved in relevant incidents.

After revising his proposal with input from the APD to lay out a workable plan, the data releases will include:
  • Detailed information on calls for police service, including the type of incident and time, location and police response. Similar information specifically for mental health service calls will also be provided.
  • The outcomes of police arrests, searches, uses of force and complaints against officers
  • The number of sworn APD employees on staff including their ranks and details on activities, hours worked and overtime. The releases will also track statistics related to cadet training academies, retirements and other separations from the APD force.
An amendment from Council Member Vanessa Fuentes will also see the releases include information on police inquiries into immigration status and instances when police make arrests for nonviolent misdemeanors when a citation could've been issued instead.

Interim City Manager Jesús Garza said staff will begin working out the details of the new system and return to council by mid-December with an update about its implementation. Per Vela's directive, the first open data release would come out by March 1, 2024.

According to the APD

"The Austin Police Department is excited to be moving forward with looking at additional ways to make data more accessible to our community. We believe that making data accessible to our community will empower them and foster a more transparent relationship. We understand this is a large task to take on, and it will take time," said APD Communications Manager Brandon Jones. "This project will be an ongoing effort, and we will rely heavily on feedback, research, and keeping up with emerging technology. Our goal is to make the data accessible, meaningful, and user-friendly to drive positive change for our department and community."

Also of note

APD representatives, including newly appointed Chief Robin Henderson, said the department is supportive of offering more public-facing information. However, they said the system could take some time to fully iron out given the various technology systems at play and the heavy workload the APD's data team is already saddled with.

Henderson also said APD had separately been working to build its own public data dashboard, work that could be sidelined to prioritize the new data releases.

Officials approved Vela's item with only Council Member Mackenzie Kelly voting against. While she said she supports pushing for data transparency, she expressed concern that shifting focus to the new process could impact APD staff already handling the department's lengthy backlog of data requests.

Vela said he hopes that openly presenting many of the most frequently requested data points on a monthly basis will mean fewer people request such information on their own, while also giving those interested a better view of trends and operations.

"Having this data publicly available reduces our open records workload. ... Policymakers need this information if we are going to make data-driven public safety decisions. Transparency around public safety is critical for building community trust," he said.