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Adding more cops part of APD planning

Wednesday, March 21, 2018 by Jo Clifton

The Austin Police Department currently has 69 vacancies, Assistant Chief Troy Gay told City Council Tuesday, but with so many officers retiring each month it is nearly impossible to catch up.

In addition, the Matrix Consulting Group recommended in 2016 that APD hire 144 new patrol officers, and in 2017 APD proposed adding 329 new officers over five years.

Against that background, Council Member Ora Houston has been receiving numerous calls from the community about the need for additional officers. She is not alone in receiving calls from nervous constituents who are particularly concerned in the wake of six bomb incidents in Austin this month. The first two bombs killed two people in East Austin and injured one, and a third bomb badly injured a woman. Two young men are recovering from a bomb triggered by a tripwire in a Southwest Austin neighborhood this weekend. On Tuesday, there was another explosion at a FedEx facility in Schertz outside of San Antonio, and authorities confiscated another bomb there that afternoon before it was able to detonate.

Houston is sponsoring a resolution asserting the need for APD to review and provide an update to Council on police management reports from 2008 and 2016 recommending hiring more officers. The resolution also directs the city manager “to expedite filling all current vacancies utilizing existing funding for the unfunded officer positions in the FY 2017-18 budget” and to develop a staffing plan for APD, both civilians and officers, for the next five years.

Council members Alison Alter, Ann Kitchen, Jimmy Flannigan and Ellen Troxclair have also received phone calls from anxious community members, and they are co-sponsoring the resolution with Houston.

In the meantime, officers who are on the job are racking up lots of overtime, some of it in response to spring festivals and some of it in response to the bomber or bombers who have placed explosive devices around town and, as of Tuesday, sent them through a package delivery service.

Houston pointed out that her resolution was written before the bomber started their deadly attacks – before officers started putting in the hundreds of additional hours required to try to solve the case. In short, the bomber has had a negative impact on the APD budget.

Gay told Council that the current cadet class will graduate on August 31 but there are only 51 prospective officers, and with approximately four officers retiring every month, the graduating class will not mean that APD is fully staffed.

A new class could have more than 100 cadets, Gay said, but as he explained to the Austin Monitor, the lack of a contract between the city and the Austin Police Association has “presented some challenges,” meaning that an unusually high number of officers retired at the end of December: more than would have if Council had approved the contract.

The 69 unfilled positions include vacancies left by more than 30 officers who retired unexpectedly, Gay said, and 10 positions that Council authorized but did not fund in the current year’s budget.

Part of Houston’s resolution worried Council Member Greg Casar, and he expressed reservations about directing the city manager to expedite filling current vacancies using existing funding.

He offered an amendment seeking to instead study “the best use of limited public safety dollars amongst potential public safety investments, including, but not limited to, public safety personnel, targeted law enforcement programs, social services programs, and more, with the goal of improving public safety over the next five years.”

That’s basically at odds with the rest of the resolution, and some of the resolution’s sponsors particularly Alter said they would be unlikely to accept Casar’s amendment. Alter’s staff said Wednesday that she would support Casar’s amendment.

In addition, it’s an open question whether or not APD will have enough money in its current budget to fill the unfunded positions. Chief Financial Officer Elaine Hart said it would cost about $1 million over six months to fund the positions and equipment for the 10 officers whose positions are currently unfunded.

Hiring those officers before the end of the current fiscal year seems highly unlikely, given APD’s depleted budget and because the cadet class will not graduate until the end of August. Next year is a different story, but it’s hard to see exactly how the resolution could impact police staffing for the current year.

Council Member Delia Garza told the Monitor, “Honestly, it sounds like they’re already planning to hire (the new officers) anyway next year. They’re already planning to make that ask from the city manager, so it’s probably going to be included in his proposed budget. I just feel like this item is not doing anything that’s not already in the works.”

Casar offered this clarification Wednesday morning:

“The Police Department can and should fill the current vacancies with their current budget. There are 10-12 that are not funded and that the Police Department says they can’t fill this year. We shouldn’t be dedicating funding,” to the positions that were not funded in the current budget because the money “can’t be used this year anyway because the Police Department can’t hire that number of cadets this year and . . . we should use a deliberative process to look at any extra funding to determine whether it should go to the 12 additional (officers) next year or whether it should go to something else that has a public safety purpose.”

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