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City Council exploring ways to shrink APD scope of work

Monday, April 19, 2021 by Sean Saldaña

This Thursday, City Council will meet to work through more of the logistics of the city’s biggest policy priority over the last year: reimagining public safety.

In a memo sent to Council on April 9, Rey Arellano, assistant city manager for public safety, detailed several agenda items that revolve around “budget amendments and decoupling activities.”

The first item is the creation of the Emergency Communications Department, a standalone department that would replace the Emergency Communications Division, which is currently under the jurisdiction of the Austin Police Department. The division, which is staffed by more than 200 employees, is operational 24/7 and receives approximately 1 million calls a year. This is the part of the police department where 911 call receivers and police dispatchers work.

A newly created Emergency Communications Department would report not to APD, but to Arellano. The division would have 222 full-time equivalent civilian positions and an annual budget of $16,085,640.

According to the memo, Arellano sees this change as an “opportunity to streamline and provide for continuous improvement in emergency communications while also allowing APD to focus on their primary law enforcement functions.”

Another operational change Council will consider are security contracts for municipal court services.

Currently, many court security services like operating screening stations, conducting building patrols and hand inspections are performed by APD officers. However, G4S Secure Solutions Inc. has been identified as a vendor to supplement these services with unarmed security guards.

There are some caveats; not all responsibilities would transfer over to G4S guards.

According to the memo, responsibilities “such as prisoner transfers; inmate monitoring; warrant service; contempt of court arrests ordered by a judge; and enforcement of lawful orders” would still be handled by APD officers, though the long-term goal is to establish a court marshal system that would replace APD responsibilities entirely.

City management also recommends separating the APD Alarm Administration Unit, a small unit dedicated to eliminating false alarms that tie up public safety resources.

According to the unit’s website, “firefighters and paramedics respond to thousands of false alarm calls every year. These unnecessary responses result in an enormous burden in resources and expense; which in turn reduces emergency unit availability to respond to real emergencies.”

Separating the unit from APD would move six positions out of the police department and have a total cost of $551,790.

The city manager’s office is also looking to remove many administrative functions from APD’s scope of work, including human resources, public information, facility maintenance, and finance.

The city manager would also contract funding for things like Axon body cams and AT&T phone contracts. These contracts will be managed by the corporate Financial Services Department.

The memo also pushes the city to further its relationship with Joyce James Consulting, a firm that provides diversity trainings and produces equity reports and has consulted for the city on many of its public safety reforms over the past year.

Arellano says the consulting firm would help “ensure successful implementation of Reimagining Public Safety efforts, including providing reform recommendations, facilitating strategy sessions, and assisting to provide a racial equity lens to key decision-making.”

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