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Report recommends major changes to 911 procedures

Monday, July 27, 2020 by Nina Hernandez

Last week, City Council’s Public Safety Committee heard a presentation on a report from AH Datalytics, paid for by the Austin Justice Coalition, assessing the Austin Police Department’s 911 calls for service. Overall, the report asserts that many of the calls APD receives could be handled by an alternative resource.

According to the report, only 21 percent of calls address crime and only 0.6 percent of calls address violent crime. Of the calls that reported a crime, fewer than 20 percent resulted in an actual police report. More than 65 percent of officer time is spent on activities other than responding to violent crime. And over 95 percent of all burglar alarm calls, which account for 6 percent of all calls, are false alarms.

In order to streamline the process, the company recommends the city streamline its signal codes, address false burglar alarms, alternate responses to non-injury traffic accidents, identify non-police responses to mental health crises, locate addresses with repeat incidents, make signals clearer, simplify dispositions and publish data online.

After the presentation from AH Datalytics’ Ben Horwitz, Chief Brian Manley asked whether the firm weighted the data based on the fact that more serious crimes require more officers dispatched to the scene. Horwitz acknowledged the discrepancy, but said that the firm didn’t have access to that dataset.

In response to the findings, Austin Justice Coalition said the report “affirms much of what local advocates have been saying: Most 911 calls could immediately be handled more effectively at a lower cost using alternative types of response with little to no risk to public safety.”

Council Member Alison Alter asked whether the city faces any legal restraints when it comes to reducing officer presence in traffic stops. She also noted that many of her West Austin constituents want more, not less, traffic enforcement from APD.

Manley said that there are some statutes that require an officer be dispatched to the scene, in particular a crash that requires tow trucks.

“The other point would be, traffic stops are some of the most dangerous encounters officers have, short of some of the disturbance calls they go to,” Manley said. “We only need to go to the Officer Down Memorial Page to see how many police officers have been killed during traffic stops this year alone.”

AJC notes that traffic calls consume over 20 percent of officer time, even though according to the data they do not result in a report 90 percent of the time.

Council Member Greg Casar pointed out that Council has spoken extensively in the past about being more proactive when it comes to preventing crime, and he said the data shows the city could be doing more on that end.

“It’s important, and I don’t think anyone’s debating, that we need to investigate deaths and investigate violence,” Casar said. “When we look at the data, it does seem like only a pretty small portion of the police budget goes into investigating it and frankly very little to the prevention efforts that this Council has been talking about for years.”

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