On Dec. 13, Austin City Council rejected a proposed Austin Police Department Union contract, following concerns over accountability measures and financial viability, marking the first time in the city’s history that council rejected a police contract, city staff say.
District 6 Council Member Jimmy Flannigan said the rapid increase in compensation requested in the contract would hinder the police force’s ability to hire more officers, a primary concern of many of his Northwest Austin constituents.
Northwest Austin residents have expressed concerns over property crime in several neighborhoods which many constituents believe is linked to a lack of police presence, Flannigan said. The concern over the lack of patrols is particularly present among communities that were annexed by the city. Some neighborhood associations in outlying areas of the city have responded to this problem by hiring paid patrol officers out of pocket.
“It is a fairly common refrain across certain parts of the district that there was better patrol and there was more safety before they were annexed,” Flannigan said.
Flannigan also said a need for increased community outreach and education efforts keeps property crime levels up. If more of his constituents had access to community resources and information about preventing property crime, such as having certain types of locks or organizing neighborhood watches, he said the areas would become less of an easy target for property crime without stretching police forces thin.
“If you’re talking about a systemic problem, reducing the likelihood of [property criminals]success reduces the likelihood that [property criminals]try it,” Flannigan said.
Among Flannigan’s plans for mitigating property crime issues in Northwest Austin is coordinating with the Austin Police Department to create Community Service Officer positions within the department to assist in community engagement and outreach.
“[A community service officer] does not have to have a gun and by not having to have a gun it makes it easier, in theory, to recruit, train and retain,” Flannigan said. “That means I can have more of them at a cheaper cost than having badged, armed officers.”
Flannigan said working with the Austin Police Department on hiring community service officers would not require a new contract on the table. However, more funds freed up in the police contract budget would help.
Whether Flannigan can establish the implementation of community service officers or not, he said the primary concern of his constituents is having funds to hire more officers.
The contract was estimated to cost the city $80 million over five years and included a roughly 10 percent raise for all officers over a five-year period. The contract also added financial incentives for experienced officers.
“It became clear to me that over the five-year term of this contract we were not going to be left with the financial flexibility to add new officers at a level that is necessary for the city,” Flannigan said.
When the new contract comes to the table by March 2018, Flannigan said he is open to maintaining the current compensation plans but wants to ensure any increase is sustainable.
“The last thing that anybody wants is to have a detrimental effect on our existing forces pay and benefits,” he said. “We’re not trying to cut anybody’s salary. We are just concerned about the growth of that pay and benefits over time.”
Christoper Neely contributed to this report.