Local business owners, city leaders and members of the Austin Police Department met Oct. 25 to discuss rising public safety concerns in the downtown area and potential strategies as short-staffing at APD continues.

Current situation

Many local business owners, including Craig Staley of Royal Blue Grocery, Nate Hardesty of The Thompson hotel and David Jabour of Twin Liquors, say they are feeling an increase in crime downtown as their businesses experience more theft and property damage.

At the Oct. 25 forum, Staley reported each of his seven convenience-style stores downtown are experiencing shoplifting almost 10 times a day, which Staley said has contributed to the 15% decline in sales he’s seen since April.

Jabour said shoplifting has doubled at Twin Liquors stores, and he’s noticed an uptick in overnight robberies.

While business owners say they are feeling a rise in small crime, APD has not had a full force for many years and oftentimes does not have the manpower to address nonurgent calls.

Meanwhile, fewer victims are calling 911 or self-reporting small crimes, skewing Austin's crime rate data, interim police Chief Robin Henderson said.

The details

While APD has launched new recruitment initiatives, offers a $15,000 signing bonus and has taken steps to improve its culture, attrition is still outpacing hiring in the police force.

Ideally, Austin should have about 2,000 officers, and they currently have 1,482, APD Assistant Chief Eric Fitzgerald said. APD has been budgeted for just over 1,800 officers for the past several years.

“We’re having to do a whole lot more with a whole lot less,” Fitzgerald said, adding that homicide detectives are regularly being pulled away from their duties to patrol downtown.

Diving in deeper

APD is also seeing fewer cadets make it through to graduation. APD’s most recent cohort lost 44% of its cadets before graduating 19 new officers.

Henderson said the reasons why many cadets don’t make it to graduation day are “across the board.”

Many cadets drop out because they realize they will not be able to telework, Henderson said. Others leave for not wanting to reveal personal information required for the department's extensive background check or fail the polygraph test that follows.

Henderson said many cadets also fail the required physical, academic and drug tests.

“Please know when I say we are in a staffing crisis, ... it is legit,” she said.

Zooming out

Henderson said APD’s recent push to recruit more women in the police force could fill some of the staffing gaps and impact department culture.

Women currently make up 10% of Austin’s officers; however, APD hopes to bump that number up to 30% by 2030 as part of the 30x30 Initiative. The initiative, launched in February 2022, aims to increase representation of women and support policies that support the success of women in the police force.