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Public Safety Commission debates police department software

Thursday, July 7, 2022 by Veronica Apodaca

The merits of Lexipol software as a tool for the Austin Police Department was the focus of the Public Safety Commission’s Tuesday meeting. The crux of the debate between the commissioners and APD representatives was whether the software was worth the approximately $20,000 the department is currently paying for it each year.

Lexipol is used by APD as a tool to help draft changes to police department policies based on federal and state law. However, the department does not rely solely on the software, as the proposed revisions are also sent to police department employees as part of the approval process.

“Once (the revision) is properly formatted, it goes to a policy vetting committee, and that’s comprised of various ranks within the department … they want to make sure that first, it’s something that’s compliant with state and federal law … also, if it’s something that doesn’t conflict with another policy,” APD Lt. Orlando Smart said in his presentation to the commission.

The final decision on whether a new policy is approved or denied goes to a policy review committee, which is made up of members of the department holding various ranks. If a policy is approved, the police force is informed via training bulletins.

The main appeal of Lexipol is its ability to format policy changes in a cleaner and more efficient way than other software, such as Microsoft Word, which APD used in the past. Lexipol can immediately update the department’s 828-page policy manual, eliminating the need to edit manually.

Yet one concern is the cost of the software and whether APD is paying too much for it.

“If what we’re mainly paying for is formatting, it seems like paying $18,000-$20,000 a year … is a little bit ridiculous,” Commission Chair Rebecca Bernhardt said. “When we go to a generic organization that’s really concerned about risk management, what we’re getting is the most conservative version of police policies, and then we’re working from there … you seem to be sort of expending the $18,000 and then doing all the work you would do anyway.”

Assistant Police Chief James Mason disagreed, saying the department should continue to use Lexipol in light of staffing shortages. “If Lexipol doesn’t do what they do, and I’m not for any company that does their type of services, then who will, and how do we hire someone for $20,000 a year to be able to do that type of function?” he said.

Bernhardt asked if there was a way to identify current operating procedures within the department that are associated with Lexipol. If these procedures are able to be identified within the policy manual, the commissioners may address the topic of Lexipol in future meetings.

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