The Austin City Council will adopt a budget for the upcoming fiscal year starting next Wednesday. Public safety spending has declined in recent years. In 2015, public safety was 72 percent of the General Fund. The proposed budget lowers it to 62 percent. That reduction represents $422 million less in public safety spending as a percentage of the budget over the past eight years despite the population growing by 28 percent.
Austin’s public safety departments have staffing shortages that affect emergency response times. As of last week:
- Austin/Travis County EMS has 151 vacancies (22.7 percent)
- Austin Fire Department has 85 vacancies (7 percent)
- Austin Police Department has 256 vacancies (14 percent)
The Greater Austin Crime Commission’s top priority is helping solve the staffing shortage by increasing training capacity.
- But all three public safety departments have unfunded priorities that are not included in the FY23 budget proposal.
- We urge the mayor and council members to support additional equipment and programs.
Austin/Travis County EMS wants to expand its blood transfusion program and fund a state-of-the-art training simulation lab.
- Whole blood is administered in the field to patients with significant blood loss from a traumatic injury and is currently deployed in only two single-medic units.
- The training simulation lab will include manikins that breathe, sweat, bleed, change color, and simulate actual patients. It will provide multi-agency training opportunities for Fire and Police.
Austin Fire Department needs the Goodnight Ranch station construction completed this year, additional aerial (ladder) trucks, and replacement of critical firefighter breathing equipment.
- Located in southeast Austin (District 2), the Goodnight Ranch station is in an underserved area of the community with slow response times. The station will also include EMS equipment and personnel.
- A new ladder truck hasn’t been added since 1996. In that same time, the number of fire stations has grown from thirty-two to fifty-two. These trucks are better equipped to handle fires in mid and high-rise buildings, which are being constructed at a record pace.
- Air packs are critical personal equipment for firefighters providing breathable air in smoke or toxic conditions. The equipment needs to be replaced all at once by late 2024 or early 2025.
The Austin Police Department wants to reinstate license plate reader technology.
- It is a cost-effective tool that scans license plates to check for missing persons, stolen vehicles, and other potential criminal activity.
- Council Member Mackenzie Kelly is leading the effort to restore this crimefighting technology cut from the police department budget in 2020.
How can you help? Call or email the mayor and city council. Urge them to support additional public safety resources next week and plans to increase cadet classes and training capacity.
Five city council seats (Districts 1, 3, 5, 8, and 9) and the mayor will be on the ballot in November. Start now and get to know where the candidates stand on public safety issues by attending community meetings and voter forums. The candidate filing deadline is August 22.
P.S. The second phase of the groundbreaking police staffing model funded by the Greater Austin Crime Commission is completed. Machine learning analyzed administrative and specialized units, including investigations. Findings will be released soon. The patrol staffing model was issued in January. Likely the first such model, it gives the Austin Police Department a science-based approach to staffing.