Audit finds Austin police system to flag at-risk officers is failing

A system to identify at-risk Austin Police Department employees has not been effective, officials said. (Screenshot via city of Austin)
A system to identify at-risk Austin Police Department employees has not been effective, officials said. (Screenshot via city of Austin)

A system to identify at-risk Austin Police Department employees has not been effective, officials said. (Screenshot via city of Austin)

Updated July 26

The Austin Police Department’s computer program that flags officers at risk for behavioral problems failed by each of the Austin city auditor’s metrics in 2020, according to an audit from the office.

Interim Austin Police Chief Joseph Chacon agreed with the auditor's findings, calling the program “pretty broken” at a July 20 City Council meeting.

“The Austin Police Department’s early intervention system is not fulfilling its mission,” senior auditor for the city Kate Murdoch told City Council.

The Guidance Advisory Program is not used for disciplinary actions, Murdoch said. Instead, the system should identify officers who need help to prevent behavioral problems early, she said.

Cities across the United States use similar programs to flag officers who need support, Murdoch said. Austin’s system tracks three indicators: sick days, uses of force and internal affairs complaints. Each indicator has a set threshold, and if an officer crosses that threshold in a year, the system should flag them, Murdoch said.

That function did not work in 2020, Murdoch said, and it has not been working for at least the past five years. When the auditor’s office looked through each officer’s indicators manually, they found that the department’s computer program had not flagged one-third of the officers who should have been identified. Murdoch said those issues stemmed from “significant data collection and reporting issues.”

Chacon said the city employee who wrote the programming script for the system left the position, and other Austin Police Department staff did not know how to read the programming language.

“The problem for us was being able to adjust this program that essentially, was pretty broken at this point,” Chacon said. “We were not able to do that.”

A single police department employee has been sorting through flagged officers manually on a quarterly basis but has other job responsibilities to juggle at the same time, Chacon said.

While Austin’s GAP looked for three indicators, other Texas cities’ police departments have systems that search for patterns in many more sources of data. San Antonio’s GAP uses five indicators; Dallas’ uses six; and Houston’s uses 10.

Chacon agreed with the auditor’s recommendation to replace the system and said the department hopes to procure a new system by 2023. Chacon said systems in other cities use better indicators, including how often an officer files particular charges, racial profiling data and how many times an officer is involved in car crashes.

“The city auditor’s office has correctly identified that this is supposed to be a program that is not punitive in nature but rather gives us an early idea that we have an employee who is struggling,” Chacon said. “We have not been able to effectively use it.”

Editor's note: This story was updated to correct the number of officers the system flagged.

By Maggie Quinlan

Reporter, Southwest Austin/Dripping Springs

Maggie joined Community Impact Newspaper as a reporter in July 2021 after a year spent covering crime, courts and politics at The Spokesman-Review in Spokane, Washington, near the border with Idaho. In Southwest Austin and Dripping Springs, Maggie covers education, business, healthcare, transportation, real estate development and nonprofits. Prior to CI, she graduated from Washington State University, where she was managing editor of the student newspaper and a section editor at her hometown newspaper based in Moscow, Idaho. Maggie dreamed of living in the Austin area for years and feels honored to serve the communities of Southwest Austin and Dripping Springs.


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