Dear Neighbor, Last year was defined by the pandemic and politics. This year, the community will work together to end a public health crisis and focus on homelessness and public safety. The Texas Legislature convened yesterday for the 87th Regular Session. Criminal justice and public safety will be among the top issues facing state lawmakers. For example,… Read more »
Austin is growing. Its police force should too.
Despite an increase in violent crime, slower emergency response times, population growth and the recommendations of taxpayer-funded studies, the Austin City Council hasn’t added a police officer in more than two years. The Austin Police Department is more than 300 officers short of the minimum needed for effective community policing.
The latest taxpayer-funded police staffing study recommended hiring more than 100 officers immediately. In a presentation to the Austin City Council, Richard Brady of the Matrix Group said Austin had the lowest available community engagement time of any police department the research firm had ever analyzed. In other words, the consultant had never seen a police department whose officers were stretched so thin. Since the Matrix report, business, community and neighborhood groups have endorsed the goal of achieving a minimum of 35 percent community engagement time.
For a city that values community policing, we’re setting up our officers to fail by ignoring the warning signs in the Matrix report and police data. Police emergency response times are up over the past several years, while violent crime increased for the second consecutive year. Meanwhile, the available time police officers use to build relationships and trust in neighborhoods has fallen from 33 percent in 2009 to 24 percent last year—well below the recommended standard of 35 to 50 percent.
In a survey of likely Austin voters, more than eight in 10 people supported adding more police officers immediately or over the next three or four years—and they acknowledged the cost involved.
The Austin City Council unanimously approved a resolution in March 2018 directing the city manager to develop a five-year staffing plan for the police department. That plan recommended hiring 333 more officers between 2019 and 2023 to reduce crime and strengthen community policing. Yet an early city budget proposal adds only 15 police officers in 2019.
Everyone wants the same thing: good law enforcement and a safe city. Hiring more officers and addressing police department operations and policies aren’t mutually exclusive. Community advocates and neighborhood groups are working with the police department on important public safety issues. Though these are legitimate and necessary discussions about community policing, we’re putting Austin residents, visitors and police officers at risk when the patrol workforce is inadequate.
If we look back in future years and find ourselves facing the same problems with public safety that we have with affordability and mobility—which is too far behind to catch up—we’ll remember this as the moment we could have done more and didn’t.
There’s not enough money to do everything, but there is enough to do the right thing. This is a question of priorities, not a lack a revenue.
Use the form on this page to contact the Austin City Council and tell them to put public safety first. If you need assistance, feel free to use the message below:
Dear Mayor and Council Members:
As a concerned citizen, I urge you to fund fifty-six new police officers in the FY19 budget.
Earlier this year, you and your colleagues unanimously approved a resolution directing the city manager to develop a five-year staffing plan for the police department. That plan recommends hiring 333 more officers between 2018 and 2022. Fifty-six new officers are included in the FY19 projection.
Despite an increase in violent crime, slower emergency response times, population growth, and the recommendations of taxpayer-funded studies, the Austin City Council has failed to adopt minimum police staffing recommendations since 2012. The Austin Police Department is more than 300 officers short of the minimum needed for effective community policing.
Austin residents and visitors are at risk when the police force is understaffed. Please fund public safety first.
In the News
Dear Neighbor, Is this the Austin we want? In the first ten months of this year, murder increased 54 percent in Austin, arson is up 34 percent, auto theft increased 30 percent, and aggravated assault is up 19 percent. Robberies, building thefts, vandalism, and burglaries have also increased. (The latest Chief’s Monthly Report is available here.) Despite rising crime… Read more »
Dear Neighbor, At the cost of thirteen police officers for a year, we have another city study. Last week, the Austin City Council approved a contract worth up to $1.3 million with Kroll Associates Inc. to “conduct a comprehensive, multi-pronged investigation of the extent to which forms of racism, bigotry, and discrimination are present in the protocols, practices, and… Read more »