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Auditors report on community policing efforts

Tuesday, September 10, 2019 by Jo Clifton

The Austin Police Department has made considerable progress in implementing recommendations from the 2016 Matrix Consulting Group study on community policing, according to an audit update from the city auditor’s office recently provided to the mayor and City Council.

The report states that APD has implemented 40 out of 60 recommendations from the Matrix report.

Assistant City Auditor Andrew Keegan told the Austin Monitor Monday that his office wanted to make sure Council had the report before taking action on the 2020 budget. City management has asked for 30 new police staffers, including 20 officers and 10 at higher ranks.

Keegan and APD Chief of Staff Troy Gay both noted that there is considerable work left to do on the final phase of the audit. That will involve auditors speaking to community members as well as APD employees to see how things may have changed since the Matrix report.

Gay noted that the audit came about as a result of a recommendation from Matrix and that auditors will be “doing a little bit more of a deep dive” from now through the end of the year.

He said, “We’re very proud of our efforts in community policing and where we’re headed as an agency. Definitely with our staffing shortages and our current vacancy rate, it does hamper some of our community engagement time that we have to spend, but definitely we’re trying to weave our community efforts into all of our day-to-day activities with all our officers.”

One of APD’s biggest challenges is recruiting and keeping its officers. There are over 100 vacancies in the department.

Gay said the department is “trying to get back to a fully staffed model within the next year and a half,” noting that the Matrix report called for 168 more staff members. “We have provided the City Council and city manager with an initial four-year staffing plan. …We’re not going to get all those positions in the next year, but we feel that we’re moving in the right direction.”

Many of the Matrix recommendations related to organizational structure, recruiting and training, and auditors said APD had followed those recommendations and completed the work.

There is a lengthy list of recommendations related to staffing, such as increasing the number of staff allocated to each region, with a net increase of 66 officers and eight corporals allocated to patrol. That is one of the 40 recommendations auditors say APD has completed.

However, auditors reported that APD continued to have patrol staffing shortages that prevented the department from increasing the number of motorcycle officers to address traffic problems.

The Matrix report recommended the establishment of formal boards or committees for each constituent community to meet with a police liaison on a quarterly basis to discuss issues and ways to improve service.

Auditors said APD decided to have the neighborhood liaisons attend existing quality of life commission meetings instead of creating formal committees. “APD staff were unable to provide evidence that this approach enables constituent communities to regularly discuss issues with liaisons, but said they are continuing to refine their process of engaging community members.”

Another recommendation was to develop specifically defined performance measures to gauge the effectiveness of community policing efforts at the organizational level and publish a yearly report of the findings. According to the audit report, although APD tracks community engagement time available, the department “has not yet settled on metrics to gauge the effectiveness of community policing.”

Photo by Mark Norman Francis made available though a Creative Commons license.

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