As the Austin Police Department prepares to hire 49 new officers in a tight budget season, one City Council member is critical of the way the city determines how much police personnel it needs.Spelman sensibly suggests that:
Council Member Bill Spelman said the standard of having two police officers per 1,000 residents is arbitrary and is preventing the city from adding badly needed civilian employees such as dispatchers, 911 call center employees and crime analysts.
instead of hiring officers based solely on population increases, the department should staff itself based on "what they want to achieve," and by targeting specific problems.By choosing alarm response over burglary investigation, APD has chosen focusing on the appearance of safety as opposed to actually reducing crime. I'm already on record saying that Austin doesn't need more officers until the ones they have now are deployed more wisely. In particular, as long as 12% of patrol calls are spent responding to false burglar alarms while actual burglaries go uninvestigated, largely for lack of civilian staff, it's hard to justify throwing more money down that particular hole until departmental priorities have changed.
In other police departments, Spelman said, cities conduct studies on patrol officers, detectives, civilian operators and other employees, and what they do hour-to-hour. From there, they determine how much staffing is needed based on how they want employees to use their time.
"(The Police Department) is the only place we have a policy where if the population goes up, we must increase the number of employees," Spelman said. "We don't have that for the Fire Department."
Mayor Lee Leffingwell said going below the ratio "would be a line in the sand for me."
"Going below that puts the city in a position where it might not be as safe as it's been in the past," Leffingwell said.