Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Austin police calls for service flat, handled less effectively by ever-more officers

While I was out of town there was a nice story at KUT-Austin on Councilmember Bill Spelman's argument that the City of Austin doesn't need to fund more police officers or detectives in its next budget. Here are the charts Spelman presented to support his arguments. The article closed thusly:
Council member Spelman came prepared for this conversation – as he had prepared several charts outlining calls, responses and crime in Austin since 1999.
  •  The first chart Spelman showed displayed a remarkably consistent number of dispatch calls from 1999 to 2013 – despite the total Austin population growing significantly since 1999.
  • Subsequent slides went on to display an increase in the number of patrol officers, and a slight increase in non-violent crime – while noting the number of investigators doubled over that time.
  • The primary question raised by the data – the title of a slide overlaying all the data – was  “Why do we need more detectives?”
While Spelman qualified his remarks by stating that there are many factors that statistics can’t encapsulate, he argued Austin has not gotten consistently better results over this time period. “I feel I need also to point out that we actually cleared more crimes in 1999 than in 2013,” he said, “despite the fact that the number of, at least general assignment, detectives more than doubled.”

Acevedo alluded to the need for more security against terrorism as a reason why it is not possible to compare police budgets prior to 9/11 to today’s requirements.

“I think as our footprint increases, in terms of our visibility on an international level, it makes me a lot more nervous as a police chief,” Acevedo said.

The Austin City Council takes up budgetary matters again Aug. 22, as a part of its regular council meeting.
Spelman could have added that nearly 12% of Austin PD service calls are for burglar alarms that almost never result in arrests (most are false alarms and in the tiny handful of real ones, the culprits have virtually always left the scene before police arrive). If Chief Acevedo wants more manpower for homeland security duty, he's got plenty of officers; they're just performing too many useless tasks that don't contribute significantly to public safety.


Phelps said...

I'm wary of this argument simply because it gives the police an opportunity to argue against Peelian principles. We shouldn't measure the effectiveness of the police by visible policing, but by a lack of crime. If we say, "we don't need more police because crime is down" then that's a good argument. Saying "we don't need more police because they are answering fewer calls" then that's a bad argument, because it just tells them "harass more citizens to expand your budget."

Gritsforbreakfast said...

How do you measure whether crime is down except via reports of crime by the public? For the most part, that's where the calls for service come from. To me, those are pretty much saying the same thing - not precisely, but generally.

Austin doesn't do stop and frisk the way they do in NYC, for example, but that sort of proactive harassment to my knowledge wouldn't be counted among dispatch calls.