“No other city in the country has engaged in this kind of evidenced-based and data-driven modeling for staffing levels,” APD Chief Joseph Chacon told press on Tuesday.
“[This study] highly prioritizes keeping the community safe and that has been lost in the conversations we’ve had about police staffing levels.”
The study was funded by the Greater Austin Crime Commission (GACC) using data dating back to 2016 to create an algorithmic analysis on response time and staffing levels.
Currently, APD’s response time for “priority zero” calls, the most time-sensitive, is hovering around 8 minutes, according to GACC. The average for all 911 calls, not necessarily immediately urgent, is around 10 minutes. The current authorized patrol level is 774 officers, but the department operates at a much lower level, Chacon said.
The department has been bleeding 13 to 15 officers per month as many leave for other departments, buy forward an early retirement, or leave policing entirely. There has been talk of a mass exodus this month of between 150 and 200 officers before the buy-forward retirement policy changes, but Chacon says they haven’t seen those come even close to fruition. However, he added that 17 officers have informed the department of their departure so far this month.
Due to staffing problems, officers in specialized units are being pulled into beat patrol to fill the gaps — in some instances, whole units are being disbanded.
Austin voters soundly rejected a ballot proposition last November that would’ve set a minimum staffing level of 2 officers per 1,000 residents.
The department is down over 300 officers from its staffing level in 2019, and the city council cut authorization for 150 patrol positions in their 2020 budget cut and redirection.
APD has had problems attracting replacement officers as its ranks dwindle. But Chacon said that later this month the first cadet class since that reform is set to graduate later this month. At this point, only about 60 of the original 100 cadets from that class remain.
There is usually some rejection for cadets who cannot make the cut, but just above half of the original crop remains.
After graduating the academy, the newly minted officers will spend months on a sort of probationary period before achieving full patrol status.
The second part of the study is a community survey to gauge the community’s feelings on public safety. The 482-person sample yielded substantial indifference by respondents on satisfaction with APD services. The department received the worst marks on crime prevention with about 45 percent of respondents dissatisfied, while about 38 percent had no opinion on the question. On quick call response, roughly 37 percent of respondents were satisfied while about 29 percent were dissatisfied.
Officers were deemed more often than not to treat people with dignity and respect, but respondents were almost evenly divided on whether they treat people equally. More respondents believe officers respect their rights than those who do not.
Chacon said that he will take this study to city officials and return in the coming weeks with a staffing recommendation that may mirror the 108-officer recommendation or vary somewhat from it.
Editor’s Note: This article has been updated to clarify GACC’s role in the study.
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Brad Johnson is an Ohio native who graduated from the University of Cincinnati in 2017. He is an avid sports fan who most enjoys watching his favorite teams continue their title drought throughout his cognizant lifetime. In his free time, you may find Brad quoting Monty Python productions and trying to calculate the airspeed velocity of an unladen swallow.