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APD offers to cut new officer positions to increase 911 call staff

Thursday, June 19, 2014 by Michael Kanin

Council Member Bill Spelman’s annual dive into the city’s public safety budget has prompted the Austin Police Department to offer to shed officer positions in favor of more staff in its 911 communications department.


The statement came in response to a question submitted by Spelman – a longtime critic of the standing 2.0 officers per thousand residents metric currently used by the department to justify staffing numbers – via this year’s budget process.


“The department is considering reducing the number of officer positions in order to use the funding to cover new positions for communications,” the department says in its response. “This division has submitted a plan to address their on-going needs and these plans are currently being evaluated and weighted by the department.”


APD’s response offered a very frank set of specifics about the idea, including:.


·         Submitting a critical priority to reduce the request for 59 new officers to shift funding to FY 2015 Communication needs;

·         Submitting the communications additional staffing proposal as an Unmet Service Demand; and

·         To continue to depend on overtime and mandatory holdovers to maintain necessary staffing levels.


“While these practices have regularly allowed the call center to meet industry standards of answering 90 percent or more of calls within 10 seconds,” the plan continues, “they create additional stress on current staff and many times cause staff to look at other employment opportunities. The final option is the least preferred.”


Emergency call response times have recently been a key point of criticism for the department.


Spelman’s question appears to pick up on that fact — and that the department’s budget accounts for no increase in “non-sworn employees” for several years. “It appears that there is no proposed increase in non-sworn employees in the APD budget for the next several years,” Spelman writes. “Please provide information on the plan to address 911 wait times.”


Department heads and city management approve departmental budgets after their completion. It is unclear at what point the department eliminated 911 staff increases.


Neither APD public relations staff nor Chief Art Acevedo returned requests for comment.


In early June, members of the city’s Public Safety Commission also complained that the proposed APD budget did not allocate any funds for additional civilian staff at the 911 Call Centers,


At the time, Commission Vice Chair Mike Levy said staff’s failure to address the issue was an outrage.


“The (city) manager and his staff have chosen to not make this a priority even though more and more people are going into the (911) queue … even though that person may be calling to report a fire, someone trying to break into their house, or dying on the floor with a heart attack,” he said. “For four years we’ve been saying that and the manager and his budget staff have refused to recognize that. I think it’s outrageous, I think it’s unfair to the community, and I just think it’s plain nuts.”


Meanwhile, another Spelman question aimed at police staffing reveals that nearly 37 percent of the city’s general fund goes to APD alone. A graph that accompanies Spelman’s question shows that from 1995 through 2001, police spending accounted for between 26 and 28 percent of the city’s general fund expenditures.


Then, in 2002, that figure jumped to 32 percent. Since, it has not been lower than 33 percent of the city’s general fund, spiking in 2006 at 38.3 percent of the annual budget.


Another question seeks to outline the type of service calls to which Austin firefighters respond. According to a chart provided by Spelman’s staff, medical issues account for at least 70 percent of fire calls answered by firefighters since 2009.

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