Tuesday, August 02, 2011

Spelman: Hiring more cops low on public safety priority list

At the Austin City Council's work session last week, Councilmember Bill Spelman questioned the city manager's proposal to hire 47 new officers mid-way through 2012. Reported KVUE-TV:
The 47 street officers will cost the city about $4 million a year. That $4 million includes equipment and supplies. It is money at least one city council member believes should be used for other public safety projects.
“We don't have enough people answering 911 which is easily measurable and has gotten worse over the last couple years,” said Council Member Bill Spelman. “We don't have enough people doing radio dispatching patrol cars. We don't have enough people doing crime analysis. We don't have enough people collecting evidence at burglaries.”
Council Member Spelman expresses skepticism that police workload has increased to the point to justify hiring more officers.  Mike Levy and police brass counter adding the officers will keep the city at its stated goal of two officers per 1,000 citizens.
“I think what we need is a change in the policy,” said Spelman.
Since the turn of the century, virtually all new revenue taken in by the City of Austin has gone to expand public safety spending. As Spelman told the Austin Chronicle last year, "'Over the last 10 years, public safety spending per person, in real terms, has gone up by nearly 50 percent since the year 2000,' a 45% increase from $365 to $529. 'Spending on everything else in the General Fund, has gone up by 2 percent since 2000,' from a little over $175 to $178." Now once again, when every other aspect of city government is facing austerity, the Mayor and city manager want budget hikes for public safety departments, but especially the Austin PD.

The city manager has tried to portray adding 47 new officers as "savings" by claiming the hires will be "postponed" for six months. But the fact is these are additional hires and costs, not savings in any way, shape or fashion. One could double the "savings" by simply not hiring any additional police officers in the coming year beyond those lost from attrition. After all, Austin's crime rate is low compared to other large cities in the state (and continuing to drop), so there's no immediate crisis to be solved. Meanwhile, Austin PD wastes 12% of patrol calls on false burglar alarms, spends too much time making false DWI arrests, and devotes too few resources toward investigating burglaries and other activities that rely on civilian staff. Even if the city had lots of extra money to give the police department, hiring 47 additional uniformed officers instead of bolstering civilian staff would still represent misplaced priorities. In the current budget environment, the proposal makes no sense at all.


Sandy said...

I could be wrong - and I expect someone here will prove me wrong - but seems to me that the more police officers there are, the more the citizenry becomes criminals.

I respect Mr. Spelman's call for restraint.

Deb said...

Our 2008 Public Safety Assessment said we are extremely under par on our civilian to sworn officer ratio. Criminal justice experts are now coming out to say there is no quantitative basis for this magical 2 per 1000 number. Levy doesn't care about the facts; he gloms onto something and sticks with it come hell or high water or proof otherwise!

Deb said...

Sandy: you are right. PERF (The Police Executive Research Forum) has been saying as much, in terms of the overuse of SWAT - that the militarization of police especially increases the backlash effect.

Anonymous said...

Deb said: "Levy doesn't care about the facts; he gloms onto something and sticks with it come hell or high water or proof otherwise!"

I know exactly what you mean. It's kinda like those people who just KNOW that the police are becoming "militarized." No amount of facts, laws, court cases, and statistical evidence to the contrary will disabuse them of this false notion. There's no point in trying to convince them either because the confirmation bias effect is very powerful on this issue.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

8:57, since you've provided no facts, law, court cases, statistics, nor anything else to support your (off topic) assessment, I don't know why you think anybody should take your word for whether the police have become more "militarized" (whatever that means). That's a subjective assessment - I can't imagine what statistics, etc., would prove or disprove it one way or another.

Anyway, this post is not about SWAT but whether police need more patrol officers, who, you're right, in most situations operate far closer to realm of workaday government bureaucrats than as a "militarized" force. And of course, police officers don't face nearly the risk that soldiers do, so you're right the comparison really doesn't work. As a practical matter, garbage collectors' jobs are statisticaly much more dangerous than cops'. Those fellows picking up your trash are putting their lives on the line every day.

Anonymous said...

Hiring more cops is low on my priority list.

Charlie O said...

Ah c'mon Grits. What money is to be put into Austin's coffers by investigating burglaries? The money is in them DWI's.

Anonymous said...

Actually Grits, the militarization of police does have an impact on the hiring of more cops and the "2 per 1,000" ratio. Every SWAT officer and their team has to spend numerous hours off the street in training to be effective which means that a city needs to have more officers to maintain the same standard of service when they decide to implement a tactical response team in their department. When you take a metro area such as Houston with numerous balkinzed agencies, that means dozens of officers/deputies lost to serving the community on normal matters if each department has its own team.

HPD once had a policy that they would support any police agency in their metro area with their own SWAT team responding, if needed, as long as that agency didn't establish an independent SWAT team. Prevented conflicts and all the local agencies didn't need to waste manpower and money on duplicating SWAT units.

To bad the current sheriff (who is short on manpower) doesn't see it that way. He wants both an air force (for air support) and a SWAT team.

Anonymous said...

If we just had more Andy Griffiths we wouldn't need so many Barneys.