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APD continues to push toward community-focused policing

Monday, July 9, 2018 by Jessi Devenyns

Since the Austin Police Department made its switch to a more community-oriented focus last year, it has continued to plow forward in its efforts to reorient its policies and position APD more as a force for the people.

In a presentation to the Public Safety Commission on July 2, Police Chief Brian Manley updated commissioners on the status of the department’s two-year-old project to implement its new set of recommendations from a report prepared in 2016 by Matrix Consulting Group. Council hired the group to study APD’s current practices and recommend improvements to strengthen the department’s relationship with residents. The department has completed 50 of the 79 recommendations, and 25 are still in progress. However, there are two recommendations that the department opposes.

APD continues to oppose one recommendation from the Matrix report that suggests tracking the time that police officers spend volunteering with community organizations when they’re off duty. Manley said that tracking volunteer hours would make them mandatory, which would be an overreach into an employee’s personal life that could potentially be illegal.

Nevertheless, said Manley, the department encourages officers to be involved in civic life and volunteer in their free time.

Another recommendation that the department is opposed to is bringing community service officers into the department. Manley said routine calls “can always turn into an incident pretty quickly,” and he does not want a civilian mistaken for an officer if a situation becomes dangerous.

Still, changes have been made to the structure and mentality of the policing in the city. “We have rewritten the vision for the APD,” said Manley, and the department has also changed its mission statement “through innovative strategies and community engagement.”

More concretely, the department will increase its number of patrol commanders from five to nine, so that each of the nine districts can have a dedicated leader, and five out of 18 commanders are already assigned to the streets as officers to oversee patrol units. “Fifty percent of our command staff is actually assigned to the patrol function,” said Manley.

Commissioner Sam Holt applauded the department’s efforts but asked how not having a contract with the city is affecting the police’s relationship with community policing.

According to Manley, the situation does not change day-to-day activities. He said lacking a city contract only limits the manpower the department has access to because of attrition. If too many officers leave the department, he explained, it will not be equipped to provide adequate community engagement “because (officers) will spend too much time answering calls.”

With 168 officers on staff and a “caseload (that) grows year after year,” APD will need to continue hiring officers to serve both on the streets and in the office as investigators. Sadly, with no more thrills and chills in the recent revamp of the recruiting video, things may be a little less exciting for potential recruits.

Photo by Austin Community College made available through a Creative Commons License.

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