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Public Safety Commission recommends adding up to 500 police officers

Tuesday, June 8, 2010 by Michael Kanin

Two members of the city’s Public Safety Commission offered a resolution Monday seeking the addition of up to 500 more Austin police officers over the next “three or four years.” Chair Michael Lauderdale and Vice Chair Mike Levy’s plan calls for an incremental build-up, with two sections of 50 officers being added, Lauderdale said, “in the next nine months.”


The additional 400 would be delivered on a basis that would factor in analysis about the actual need for those officers. The same resolution aims to also address equipment and personnel gaps in both the city’s Fire and EMS departments.


Levy said that the figures were “based on prior testimony and what we’ve heard since the commission was first formed.” He specifically cited a presentation that the commission received on Mexican drug cartels and gang activity in Austin (See In Fact Daily, April 6, 2010).


In his remarks to the commission, Lauderdale admitted that “these are difficult budgetary times,” and noted that the City Council would have to “make the decision, (and) have to struggle with what the costs are.” Though funds for up to 50 officers could come from a federal grant the Austin Police Department will apply for next week, that money will expire after three years.


He was adamant, however, about the need for quick action. “We need to make some decisions with all three departments today because it’s not a situation where we throw a switch and say, ‘Okay we’ve got the people on board,’” he said. “But rather that we (be moving) thoughtfully, but clearly, toward a reality that we have to add resources in each of the areas.”


Along the way, Lauderdale has commissioned one of his University of Texas students, Dustin Earnest, to help compile an analysis of the costs related to the making of an Austin police officer. According to Lauderdale, Earnest just graduated and is headed for UT’s Red McCombs Business School. He was also a linebacker for the Longhorns football team.


Though Lauderdale and Levy hadn’t quite put the finishing touches on the document, the commission passed it anyway, 5-0. Commissioners Ramey Ko and Kim Rossmo were absent from the hearing.


Afterwards, Lauderdale told In Fact Daily that he was “hopeful” that the federal money for the first 50 officers would come through. He added that the other 50, what he termed, “mandatory” members of the police force would have to come out of city coffers, as would new hires and equipment for the Fire and EMS departments.


“Our responsibility is not to precisely estimate what city revenues are,” he said. “We need to be generally mindful of them and then to be able to communicate to the city as we look at what we’ve heard from citizens and what we hear from the department heads and the employees, we think that this level of resource increase needs to occur.”


Lauderdale added that though he wasn’t sure how his massive force upgrade would be received at the Council, he said that “to the extent that we document well…it will be a favorable reception.”


“My experience with the individuals on the City Council,” he continued, “is that they want to know what the data is, and they want to know what our judgments are.”

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