AUSTIN, Texas - With more than 180 vacancies in the Austin Police Department, the City of Austin is getting some help from the Texas Department of Public Safety and University of Texas police, but the problem could get worse before improving.
Austin Police Chief Brian Manley said one of the best deterrents to crime is a visible police presence. That’s something the department has struggled with as more officers retire from the force.
“The more vacancies you have, the less safe the city is. You can just look at the crime stats here recently,” said Ken Casaday, president of the Austin Police Association.
The association said as of Friday there have already been 13 shootings and 11 stabbings in the city.
After last week's stabbing spree downtown, Manley said, “We've well documented that a visible police presence is one of the strongest deterrents to crime, so, we, at this point and time, when we have 180 vacancies, it's a little bit more difficult to be as visible as we want.”
DPS stepped in to help patrol downtown by order of the governor. UTPD has also decided to help with patrols near campus.
“Let’s be clear, they clearly don't have enough staffing. In our estimation, they need more support from the City of Austin,” UTPD Chief David Carter said.
Meanwhile, APD is trying to play catch up.
“Fortunately, we are graduating 68 people this Friday, but it will take at least 4-5 months to get them trained up. So, right now, we're losing about 10 people per month, so that means we will be well over 200 officers short by the time these individuals are ready to go out on their own,” said Casaday.
City council is still considering whether to delay the June 2020 cadet class. That's dependent on the outcome of an investigation into racism and discrimination. Any suggested changes to training, protocols, and policies from that investigation will have to be put into place before the class begins.
“The city council's been clear, while we're doing these investigations, to make sure that we can have an academy class in June, that there's plenty of money and they'd rather spend the money, so we need to be staffing at 100 percent, especially now that we have violent crime going through the roof,” Casaday said.
Until staffing or crime trends change, the department will have to prioritize patrols.
“We shouldn't be taking all of our staff and forcing them into one area where we have those issues because we have tax-paying citizens in Circle C and Southeast Austin and Northwest Austin that are paying taxes every year to have coverage and we can't be robbing Peter to pay Paul,” said Casaday.
Already, the police association said officers are being asked to work overtime to help with patrols and special events.
Casaday said he is working on a proposal for city council to offer new cadets a moving stipend as well as a signing and graduation bonus. He hopes those benefits will help increase recruitment numbers.