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Chief praises assignment change for detectives

Thursday, June 2, 2016 by Jo Clifton

Although the president of the Austin Police Association has criticized the department’s decision to deploy detectives from their usual assignments to work patrol shifts for three weeks each on a rotating basis, Police Chief Art Acevedo told City Council during Wednesday’s budget work session that the change in assignments is a positive one.

Acevedo said, “We think that’s going to be a really positive thing to have these detectives and these non-front-line officers come out to help augment our patrol assets. And, by having detectives out there on patrol working with young patrol officers, we do two things for them: give them the opportunity to train our patrol officers, training the next generation of detectives, and just as important is to give them the opportunity to hit the ground running when that violent crime occurs.”

He said APD hopes that having detectives out in the field when crimes occur may help solve some cases faster.

Unlike APA President Ken Casaday, who recently told the Austin-American Statesman that the decision to shift the detectives’ duties was flawed, Acevedo said the change would be good for the detectives as well as the patrol officers.

Acevedo reeled off a multitude of statistics about his department, including Austin residents’ satisfaction levels as compared to the national average for cities with populations of 250,000 or more, the number of officers in training and the number of civilian employees he would like to add.

Acevedo told Council that 73 percent of those Austinites surveyed in 2015 were satisfied with the general quality of police services, compared to a national average of 60 percent satisfaction. 68 percent of those surveyed were satisfied with the Austin police response time in emergencies, Acevedo said, compared with the national average of 44 percent. Satisfaction with enforcement of local traffic laws sits at 53 percent in Austin and at 46 percent among similarly sized cities, he said.

The total response time for calls designated as emergency calls was six minutes 37 seconds for Fiscal Year 2014-2015, 10 seconds longer than the department’s goal and more than 30 seconds longer than the response time for Fiscal Year 2012-2013, Acevedo said. Response times for lower priority calls have also risen in the past two years.

Council asked some questions about staffing levels but did not, as a whole, indicate whether they wanted to add more officers in order to lower response times or allow officers more uncommitted time to engage in community policing. Acevedo asked the Council whether they support the concept of community policing, which includes the concept of uncommitted time to determine future patrol staffing.

According to Acevedo, the police academy will graduate 38 new officers on July 8 and anticipates an additional 50 officer graduations on October 28. In addition, a modified class of 30 veteran officers from other jurisdictions will also graduate on October 28.

The chief also outlined statistics related to the workload of civilian staff at APD. He noted that the department received more than 18,000 samples of DNA, fingerprints and blood alcohol in 2015 and analyzed more than 16,000 samples. This left a backlog of more than 1,500 samples, he noted.

While the police association has argued for more officers, Acevedo emphasized that the civilian support staff has not kept up with the sworn positions. He asked Council to weigh in on whether they would support hiring additional detectives as well as civilian staff to improve the department’s crime clearance rates.

Council Member Leslie Pool asked Acevedo to come up with a plan for adding civilians, which he said he would do. Council Member Greg Casar said he supports community policing and believes that his colleagues do also, but having spent so much time earlier in the day on transportation questions and still having to consider what Fire Chief Rhoda Mae Kerr might tell them, his colleagues did not give much indication of what they were thinking. Council members Ellen Troxclair and Sheri Gallo did not attend the meeting.

Photo by WhisperToMe (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

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