Austin Police Department requests 15 new officers in city's 2019 budget

According to multiple reports, the Austin Police Department is understaffed.

According to multiple reports, the Austin Police Department is understaffed.

The Austin Police Department has requested funding for 15 new sworn officers as part of the city’s fiscal year 2018-19 budget, a proposal for which will be released to the public on Aug. 1.

This request comes as violent crime and response times continue to rise in Austin.

Meanwhile, APD has operated without a labor contract since Dec. 29, further exacerbating concerns around police staffing.

Keeping pace with growth

The city’s metric of adequate policing is two officers per 1,000 residents, according to a 2012 review conducted by the Police Executive Research Forum.

With the city of Austin’s population growing by 100 people each day, according to data from the U.S. Census Bureau, APD should hire a new officer every five days—or 73 each year—to maintain this ratio.

The budget for fiscal year 2017-18 held the number of sworn officers—1,908—steady from the year prior. The department was only able to fill 1,852 of those positions.

If those positions are filled in addition to the 15 new positions requested by APD, the department would achieve its two officers per 1,000 residents standard.

Another metric of adequate police staffing is community policing, a proactive method that requires officers to spend time in the communities they serve, building relationships and encouraging cooperation rather than only reacting to crimes.

In 2016, council hired the Matrix Consulting Group to study community policing in Austin. 

In its final report, the group recommended that APD add 66 new officer positions by 2020 to ensure that 35-45 percent of an officer's time is uncommitted, such that he or she can get to know a small business owner or play catch with a child, for example. 

APD officers currently spend an average of 27 percent of their time uncommitted, according to the department’s budget proposal for FY 2018-19.

“Increasing sworn personnel will positively impact the percentage of residents who say they have knowledge and understanding of community laws, codes and ordinances as well as the percentage of residents who say they feel safe within their workplace,” the proposal reads.

Pete Winstead, president of the Greater Austin Crime Commission, said the request for 15 additional officers is inadequate to achieve effective community policing at a July 18 press conference convened by the commission.

Funding new positions

The city of Austin spends nearly 70 percent of its annual budget on public safety, which includes fire and emergency medical services, and 40 percent on police alone.

These percentages are on par with other cities of comparable size.

Public safety “is the most important thing” a government can control, Winstead said, and should be the largest budget line item.

However, when City Council rejected a proposed five-year labor contract negotiated by city staff and the Austin Police Association in December, its members cited concerns about cost and accountability standards.

APD officers are the highest paid in the state, making nearly 14 percent more than the next highest-paid department.

Additionally, without a contract in place to sanction its existence, the Citizen Review Panel was suspended and the Office of the Police Monitor has been restricted in its reach.

“[T]he uncertainty of operating without the agreement and what the future may look like is, at a minimum, a distraction to officers,” APD Chief Brian Manely said during an interview with Community Impact Newspaper earlier this year.

Next steps

City staff will present a proposed budget to City Council on Aug. 1. Public hearings on the budget, as well as on tax and utility rates, will be held on Aug. 22 and Aug. 30.

Council will participate in budget deliberations and adoption on Sep. 11-13. The fiscal year begins on Oct. 1.

Meanwhile, contract negotiations are expected to continue at least a couple more months, according to Ron DeLord, an attorney and police union contract consultant involved in the process.