AUSTIN, Texas - The Austin Police Association is out with a new podcast talking about an issue that has pretty much everyone's attention right now: the state of public safety here in Austin.
The APA podcast touches on everything from police tactics to contract negotiations, the APD, DPS partnership and, of course, police staffing and funding.
Thomas Villarreal, president of the Austin Police Association, joined FOX 7 Austin's John Krinjak to talk about the podcast and some of these issues.
JOHN KRINJAK: So obviously, it's a day and age where there's such a heated debate about policing, especially here in Austin. Why did you decide to create this podcast now?
THOMAS VILLARREAL: Yeah, so we, you know, as a leadership team, we're constantly trying to find different ways that we can engage both with our members but also with the community. And it was a no-brainer for us recently.
JOHN KRINJAK: Part a part of the podcast, I understand, was this series called De-funded, where you look at what you see as the impact of cuts to police funding. What, in your view, have been the biggest impacts of defunding, reallocation, whatever you want to call it.
THOMAS VILLARREAL: So what we've seen is a dramatic increase in the number of separations that we've had from the police department. We cut 150 vacancies in 2020, but the city council also paused our police academy. When you have multiple years of people leaving and our inability to have cadet classes, we've really seen a decrease in our actual staffing numbers. Right. Some of the people that that would argue the other side of this issue would say, hey, all your funding has been put back through the legislature, and you have, you know, all these allocated positions. The problem is, and the reality and kind of the thought process behind the podcast is, that funding might be there, but we don't have actual people at the police department to go do those job functions anymore.
JOHN KRINJAK: So, I mean, regardless of the reason for this, what do you see as the solution here now that we are where we are?
THOMAS VILLARREAL: Sure. That's something I try to talk to people oftentimes about is like, oh, we have this problem, how do we get out of this problem? And the reality is, you know, you get better response times by patrol officers. You get better case clearance from our detective units. Our detectives aren't having to go back and work. Patrol DPS probably goes away if we have adequate staffing. Right. And the answer to all of those kind of issues is the addition of about 500 cops. Now, the problem is how do we go find these people? Right. You know, the reality is, is that we need to do a better job of finding these people and then competing to attract them to come to the Austin Police Department.
JOHN KRINJAK: You mentioned the APD DPS partnership. And in fact, that was one of the subjects, I believe, of one of the podcast episodes. What is your take on where things stand with that right now? The partnership? You know, a lot of people supported it. A lot of people didn't like it. The city made the decision to suspend it, but then the governor obviously said, no, we want troopers to stay here and continue policing Austin. What is your view on how that's played out?
THOMAS VILLARREAL: The fact that the troops are here is incredibly helpful. The ability to just have extra eyes and ears and bodies on the streets that can help with different situations is incredibly, incredibly helpful.
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JOHN KRINJAK: One of the criticisms, obviously, was the allegation of racial profiling by the DPS in Austin. We did hear from the city and from DPS that those tactics changed, that they shifted the areas where they were policing. But those concerns continue to be raised. So, I mean, what do you say to activist groups who are concerned about that and say, you know, whether it's DPS or APD, we don't want more policing because we're concerned that certain groups are going to be targeted?
THOMAS VILLARREAL: Yeah. So I think, you know, the tough conversation that people don't want to have is who's committing crime in this city. Right. If you look at who's the victim of crime in this city and who's committing those crimes, especially violent crimes. Any good police agency that's worth its salt should be using data driven policing strategies. Right. And it's I think it's very shortsighted for folks to just cast away the data that was driving those decisions, and in those moments.
JOHN KRINJAK: Do you hope that the podcast maybe reaches some of those people that might disagree with you or with the Austin Police Association and maybe start a dialog and see if, hey, is there some common ground that we can all find when it comes to just keeping the city safe?
THOMAS VILLARREAL: You know, I was a hostage negotiator for two and a half years with the police department. I pride myself on being able to just sit down and talk to people. I've said over and over to folks like, if I can better understand where you're coming from, and you can better understand where I'm coming from. Like we might not agree on something, but at least we can just better understand each other and try to move towards the middle. I've always been willing to sit down and have conversations with anyone about pretty much any police topic.
JOHN KRINJAK: All right. Thomas Villareal of the Austin Police Association. Thomas, thanks for being here. Thank you. The podcast is called the Austin Police Association Podcast. You can find it on Apple Podcasts or Spotify.