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Acevedo proposes hiring delay and overtime reduction for APD budget

Wednesday, May 25, 2011 by Josh Rosenblatt

Despite two high-profile violent crimes on East Sixth Street over the last two weeks, Austin Police Department Chief Art Acevedo went before the City Council yesterday to say that both crime and the department’s expenses are down. Council members wanted assurances from Acevedo, however, that moves by the department to decrease its budget in FY2012 won’t result in higher crime rates next year.

From a purely statistical perspective, it would be hard to argue with the optimism Acevedo displayed at yesterday’s work session. Last year the city achieved a 16-year low in traffic fatalities, and APD’s Homicide Unit has one of the highest clearance rates in the country.

Acevedo said that the department had also surpassed several of its goals for the year. The department was aiming for an average response time for emergency and urgent calls of seven minutes and 30 seconds but achieved a time of 6 minutes and 53 seconds. The actual violent crime rate per 1,000 people is .29 lower than the department’s goal, the property crime rate is 3.33 lower, and the traffic fatality rate is .46 lower.

But to maintain those kinds of numbers, Acevedo said, APD will most likely need to increase funding in the coming fiscal year for things like firearms training, clean-up of clandestine labs, and salary and rank upgrades for 10 sworn positions, two lieutenants and eight detectives. In addition, the department is hoping to add 44 civilian support positions, including crime scene specialists, crime analysts, and call takers.

And though FY2011’s budget came in at just barely more than the forecast, APD’s 2012 cost drivers and major expense assumptions are not insignificant considering the current economy, one in which many municipal police departments are letting go rather than hiring new staff.

For example, adding the 47 new officers necessary to maintain the ideal staffing ratio of two officers per 1000 residents, the department projects, will cost more than $4 million.

To keep costs down in FY2012, Acevedo proposed delaying the hiring of those 47 officers for six months. That, he said, would result in savings of nearly $1.9 million. “(That delay) would put us somewhere into the first quarter of next year for an academy class,” Acevedo said. “We really believe we can do that with minimal disruption to service and presence and our ability to keep people safe.”

The chief also proposed reducing sworn overtime funds by $1.2 million, which would reduce the number of ‘hotspot’ initiatives – wherein police focus on a burgeoning high-crime area before it becomes too bad – and, he said, “potentially require patrol officers to operate on a more reactive call-driven basis rather than providing proactive crime prevention.”

Those proposals didn’t sit well with Mayor Lee Leffingwell, who asked Acevedo if delaying the academy class might result in the city dipping below its preferred staffing ratio.

“It could, but I think it would be negligible, the level that we would go under,” Acevedo responded. “Whenever we have a 10 percent vacancy in patrol we will freeze all transfers to make sure we have those patrol assets available to respond to calls for service and emergencies.”

Leffingwell also questioned the wisdom of reducing funds for overtime, saying he worried that fewer overtime hours could mean more crime.

“I know you’ve done a good job at achieving efficiencies to reduce overtime, but there comes a point where you’ve trimmed away all the fat and you’re working at your muscle and bone, and I want to be very cautious about that,” Leffingwell told Acevedo. “I want to make sure that we’re not actually reducing public safety services in order to meet a budgetary constraint here by reducing police overtime. I want to make sure we’re not undermanned out there at any point.

“I don’t support cuts in public safety that reduce the level of public safety provided. I want to be sure before signing off on delaying the academy class and reducing overtime,” Leffingwell said.

But Acevedo told Council members that the department will have an interim academy class to deal with current vacancies so that no reduction in service occurs. That class, which convenes in August, will include approximately 40 cadets.

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