A majority of Austin police officers say they feel like the city no longer supports them. The City of Austin and the Austin Police Association failed to reach an agreement on contract negotiations back in December. Thursday, the City Council voted against re-instating some additional pay officers used to receive for working difficult shifts and spending time at court.
The Austin Police Association believes about 99 percent of the department is suffering with low morale following those two meetings. We spoke to two officers on the condition of anonymity who said several of their coworkers are already looking for other jobs.
“Many of them do feel disappointed and they do feel let down,” one of the officers said.
Although stipend pay for bilingual and mental health officers was approved in February, some officers lost between $800-1,000 per month when City Council voted against reinstating stipend pay for court time, education, field training and working difficult shifts.
“All I’m trying to do is to help people, but now they are just taking away my ability to take care of my family, and I’m afraid today was stipends and tomorrow's going to be my retirement or my salary,” another officer said.
Low morale has some officers considering leaving the department. “I lost two friends who went to different fields, one of my other friends is leaving, and myself, now I’m considering doing the same. So the city is losing good people in the streets. We need them. I need them by my side,” said the officer.
While many officers said losing the stipends makes it hard for them to care for their families, the problem goes further than that. “It has now turned from we are not getting paid every month what we were promised to it's our lives and our safety are at risk, a higher risk than it's been before, and the City Council accepts that,” one officer told FOX 7 Austin.
Police in Austin said those who are leaving are more likely to be senior, more experienced officers.
The department has been trying to fill a police shortage for the last few years, but some officers said it's about to get worse. “Your wait time when you call 911 is going to increase, the quality of service is going to decrease, because you have a demoralized police force,” said the officer.
Mayor Steve Adler said police need to maintain perspective when they visit Austin City Council and consider that addressing challenges is meant to make the department stronger.
“My perception is that the police officers in our city generally know that they're supported in this city as evidenced by the fact that almost 70% of our budget is spent on public safety,” said the Mayor.
Adler said stipend pay would've continued if the Police Association would agree to an interim contract, but negotiating a long-term contract will not happen overnight. “There are conversations we have to have before we can do that, about staffing issues, about community policing, about the metrics and how we measure success,” said Adler.
However, officers said it's not about the contracts or the money.
It's about the lack of support they hear from city leaders.
“Next time you call 911, I’m going to show up, but I could use some help now,” the officer said.
The officers who spoke to FOX 7 Austin said they hope, in the future, that more citizens will speak in favor of police at Council meetings. The Austin Police Association said they will be conducting a morale survey in the next 30 days so they can present it to City Council.