The Austin Police Department may be able to take the next step in their quest to get body cameras for their officers. On Friday, Texas’ 3rd Court of Appeals dismissed a lawsuit against the City of Austin over their body camera contract. Utility associates had sued to block the city from awarding a body camera contract to Taser International after Utility Associates lost out on the bid.
In a statement, lawyers for Utility Associates tell FOX 7:
“The City ran an illegal procurement through a corrupt process and our client, Utility Associates, continues to seek its day in court to obtain a contract that is best for the Austin Police Department and the City of Austin taxpayers and that should rightly have been awarded to it. The Court of Appeals recognizes in its opinion that the doctrine of sovereign immunity can produce unfair results or, as stated in the Court’s opinion “outcomes perceived to depart from subjective understandings of ‘justice’,” but felt it was constrained by such principles from allowing our client’s claims to move forward. We respectfully disagree with the Court’s interpretation of the law and will appeal today’s ruling to the Texas Supreme Court.”
A spokesperson for the City of Austin's Communication and Public Information Office also sent Fox 7 a statement:
“We are pleased with the appellate court’s decision. The ruling gives the City flexibility in the way it chooses to implement its Body Worn Camera program, a program identified as a priority for Austin residents, City Council, and the Austin Police Department.”
“Our community has wanted body cameras for quite some time, the police department has wanted body cameras for quite some time,” says Austin Police Department Interim Chief Brian Manley, adding, “seeing the path forward hopefully be cleared so we can move forward in that direction is going to positive for all involved."
The opportunity to add the technology to APD is coming at a time when Austin is seeing unprecedented growth. “We know that Austin is on a significant population growth,” Manley says, “anywhere from 100-150 people a day depending on which study you look at.”
There is no doubt that even though it’s the 4th safest city in the US when it comes to violent crimes, the growth of the 11th largest city in the US does pose a unique challenge for APD.
“We did have a 10% increase in violent crime last year and that is significant for Austin,” says Manley adding, “that is unusual and that is on the heels of an almost 10 year decrease in violent crime. So that is something we have to pay attention to.” And he says, “we've had an uptick in both aggravated assaults and robbery of an individual and that's what's leading to the increases in overall violent crime.” And he’s says he adds, “as a data driven police department we’re focusing on putting the resources, our officers, our technology, everything we have in those neighborhoods where we see the greatest upticks and where we think we are going to have the greatest impact in reducing crime.”
Manley is also focused on how the department is tackling the crime. “I have 1,908 police officers assigned to the department for a city of over 900,000.”
With 136 vacancies, he says he’s getting creative when it comes to fighting crime on the front lines. “Currently we are supplementing our patrols with detectives which is allowing us to have other officers on the street at sufficient coverage but it's coming at a cost of pulling those detectives away from their case-loads for weeks at a time.”
He says with cadet classes lined up those detectives will soon be able to get back to what they do best. “We made a lot of improvements to our recruiting and our academy operations and as such we should be back to full staffing.” He anticipates that happening by the end of 2017. “I’m looking forward to getting the current class that’s in graduated,” he says, “and then we have 2 other classes that will start this year that will graduate by year’s end. “
And with more officers, Manley says they will be able to focus on nurturing the bond between APD and the people they strive to protect. “By building those relationships maintaining the ones we have, strengthening the ones we need to strengthen, that's going to help us build the trust that's necessary for the community to participate in the process so we can all work together to keep Austin as safe as possible.”
A recent study on Community Policing shows APD needs to add to their budget on average an additional roughly 16 officers a year for the next few years to keep up with the city's growth. “We've had a couple of studies that the City Council has paid for over the past few years that also highlight what the needs of the department are. And that will all feed in to the discussion that we are going to have this year as we approach budget season.”