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Council members challenge APD’s request to fund 92 new positions

Friday, May 3, 2013 by Elizabeth Pagano

With the budget process gearing up, City Council took a look at city departments’ unmet needs Thursday, tackling the Austin Police Department’s request early in the day while enthusiasm still ran high.

 

In all, the APD sought $14.4 million more than its $284.4 million 2013 budget. The increase was driven by costs such as more personnel, overtime for a trail pilot program, new forensic chemists, health insurance and equipment replacement.

 

The biggest cost would be a requested 92 additional officers, presented in a somewhat complicated formula. APD requested upgrades to 15 baseline officer positions at $404,415, 38 Civilian Support Positions to support department growth at a cost of about $2.925 million and Police Executive Research Forum Patrol Utilization, or PERF, Study recommended implementation of 45 full-time positions at about $4.372 million.

 

Police Chief Art Acevedo clarified that all of the positions were seen as an unmet need, and his department was asking for a total of 92 new positions to be funded.

 

Both Council Member Laura Morrison and Council Member Bill Spelman took umbrage with the apparent “doubling up” on studies.

 

Spelman said that his understanding of the PERF study was that it suggested dropping the 2.0 officers per 1,000 citizens benchmark, and replacing it with other cost drivers, which would add about 257 new officers over the next five years.

 

“It seems to me that adding the 45 to the 47 is the wrong approach. In fact, it’s either 45 or 47, depending on whether you use 2.0 or you use the PERF recommendations,” said Spelman. “My concern has been, all along, not with the number of officers, but with how you justify the number of officers.”

 

Later, after reading through the executive summary of the PERF report on the spot, Morrison agreed with Spelman’s recollection, saying that the report made it “quite clear” that the suggested 257 officers were in place of the 2.0 calculation.

 

“We did the first study to get some foundation and analysis in the discussion,” said Morrison. “I think it’s really important that we are real clear about what they say, and not suggest that they are suggesting we add those on top of 2.0. It’s an alternative.”

 

Mayor Lee Leffingwell saw it another way, saying that the 2.0 per 1000 figure was a “safety net,” indicating not a target, but a baseline for the department.

 

The idea of a baseline for other departments became a recurring motif in a long day of budget discussions, with the idea that while it may not make sense to have such a system in place for one department alone, perhaps it would be a good idea to net all of the city’s departments.

 

After some further explanation, Acevedo said that it would probably make more sense in writing, with further discussion on how staffing requirements were determined to be held off for another day.

 

Acevedo also stressed the need to increase the department’s “uncommitted time,” which he explained was currently at a critical low of about 15 percent, affecting response times and overall ability to provide the service Austin has come to expect.

 

In particular, Acevedo stressed the need for more attention to property crime, which could be thwarted by a bigger police presence in neighborhoods.

 

“At first glance it might look like uncommitted time is coffee and doughnut time, but it’s really not. It’s time to go out and proactively engage the community and have a presence on the street,” said Leffingwell. “It’s hard to quantify.”

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