Thursday, August 11, 2011

Arbitrary police staffing ratio drives local Austin spending

On Sunday, in the Austin Statesman's Insight section in the dead-tree version of the paper, editors of the local paper ran an excerpt from this Grits post arguing that the Austin Police Department doesn't need extra staffing during a tight budget year. Today the paper followed up with coverage of the debate at city hall over whether extra officers are immediately needed when important civilian slots at APD go unfilled. Reports Patrick George:
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.

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.
Spelman sensibly suggests that:
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.

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.
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.


Jennifer Laurin said...

Just happened to be reading the 2008 Census of Law Enforcement Agencies, fresh off the press from DOJ/OJP. For some perspective, nationwide in 2008 there was 1 police officer for every 400 residents. In Texas generally there was between 2 and 2.49 officers per 1000residents. My clunky arithmetic tells me that Austin's a little below the national average (which would convert to 2.5 per 1000), and right at the Texas average. FYIY.

Stephanie said...

Austin can be pretty creative and would like to see the PD consider what San Francisco and other departments are doing with civilian investigators. There are many types of calls that don't need the expertise or time of a professional peace officer...and IMO might actually be better handled by civilians.

Anonymous said...

Austin does not need more police officers.

Anonymous said...

Austin needs more police officers.