AUSTIN, Texas - Amid growing concerns that Austin police are being overwhelmed due to ongoing staffing shortages, a new resolution from the Austin City Council hopes to make the department's statistics available to the public.
District 4 council member Chito Vela joined FOX 7 Austin's Mike Warren to discuss.
Mike Warren: Let's start with your resolution requiring APD to release monthly data. What do you hope those findings help accomplish for policymakers and for the citizens of Austin?
Chito Vela: Well, transparency is a key value when we're talking about policing and public safety. We need to get good information out to the public. We need to get good information out to policymakers so that we understand exactly what we're doing with policing, where our hotspots are, how our response times are going. You know, we need good data to make good public safety. But we just don't have the data that we need. So this resolution will make sure that not just policymakers, not just city council has data, but that the entire community has good data on all kinds of policing activities.
Mike Warren: Talking about this resolution, critics say the department's already in crisis mode with staffing. Is your resolution an unfunded mandate for a department already weary of the Austin City Council yet?
Chito Vela: No, not at all. In fact, the Austin City Council raised the Austin Police Department's budget by $32 million in this last budget cycle. Within that $32 million, there were four positions specifically allocated toward data work. Those two, this resolution is essentially building on that budget. We've got the people in place to do the work. We've got direction from council as to exactly what we want done. And we'll be getting a report back in December when the chief and the city manager will come back and tell us exactly what they need, what their timeline is, if they need any additional resources. But this should not affect negatively in any way the police department. In fact, the police department wants this because they are also overwhelmed with public information requests that are often requesting the exact type of data that we're going to make public. So in the long run, having this public, having this data publicly available on the city's website should reduce the workload, at least for the civilian side of the police department.
AUSTIN CITY COUNCIL COVERAGE
- Austin City Council to vote on APD Open Policing Data Release resolution
- Council member Mackenzie Kelly speaks on Austin's public safety, fire prevention concerns
- City of Austin adopts $5.5B FY 2023-24 budget
Mike Warren: Okay. Beyond that, the city is going to start charging for parking down on South Congress. In addition to that, Austin Energy scheduled to raise rates for a third time in October. Are Austin residents getting their money's worth? Are they being kind of nickel and dimed to death?
Chito Vela: Austin residents are getting their money's worth. You know, South Congress is one of the most popular areas of the city, both for residents and for tourists. And we've struggled with parking issues in that neighborhood for well over a decade at this point. You know what we're doing by charging for parking along South Congress and along the side streets is just trying to make sure that people are not kind of parked there all day, taking up a parking space, that someone else could use it. It will raise money for transportation initiatives. It will raise money to help improve, you know, sidewalks and streets. And it's also just a better use of those limited parking spaces around South Congress. It will encourage people to also carpool. And our practice of charging for parking along those streets is really in line with, you know, San Antonio, Dallas, Houston. If you go to a neighborhood kind of surrounding downtown, one of the more popular neighborhoods in any of those major Texas cities. There's also going to be charging for parking. So, again, we're really just in line with the other practices, I'll say, with regard to Austin Energy. Austin Energy has some of the cheapest electrical rates in the state. I'm very proud of that. And because of that, I'm a big supporter of our city owned utility, which I think returns a tremendous value to the city.
Mike Warren: Okay. No free lunches. We are out of time for now. City Councilman Chito Vela, thank you very much for coming by.
Chito Vela: Thank you very much for having me.