Tuesday, July 14, 2020

Three quarters of Austin PD 911 responses went to non-crime situations: National experts analyze Austin PD data for clues on how officers spend their time

Yesterday, along with our allies at the Austin Justice Coalition, the Texas Fair Defense Project, and Texas Appleseed, Just Liberty collaborated in the release of a new report analyzing 911 call data in Austin to identify how police officers actually spend their time. See the press release here and the full report here.

This document has been the talk of Grits' household for the last week. My better half saw an item Grits had mentioned in the NY Times by Jeff Asher and Ben Horvitz, titled "How police actually spend their time." The article found that, in other cities, 1% or less of police calls were for violent offenses, which accounted for about 4% of total patrol officer time. She reached out to the New-Orleans-based statisticians and, with the help of the Austin Justice Coalition (thanks, Chas!), got them to crunch Austin's 911 data. 

Here in the Texas capital, Asher and Horvitz found only a small proportion of officer time was spent on violent crime, and 78.5 percent of patrol time was spent on other-than-crime stuff, with 2.8% of their time overall being spent on violent crime. From the press release:
Major findings
● Only 21.5% of calls address crime (UCR crime and non-UCR crime), and only 0.6% of calls address violent crime.
● When a crime has been committed, an officer must write a report. Reports were written for fewer than 20% of the calls. Some of these reports may not reflect the commission of a crime (e.g. a missing person may not be a crime victim.)
● Crime related calls (UCR crime and non-UCR crime,) because they take longer than some other kinds of calls, account for 33.2% of officer time. More than 65% of officer time is spent on other activities.
● Police spend a significant amount of time on the following kinds of calls:
burglar alarm calls, of which 99.5% are false alarms and alone represent 6% of calls and 2.2% of officer time (this has been a problem for many years);
traffic related calls consume over 20% of officer time, even though 90% do not result in a report, including stalled vehicles, arriving at the scene of minor accidents and directing traffic around obstacles in the road;
medical calls including mental health issues. These calls were under-identified in the dataset because a MH flag on call records did not begin until December of 2019. These calls most often originate as “welfare
check,” “disturbance” or “trespassing” issues.
disturbance and “suspicious person” calls: these are frequently calls where nothing further is noted. These calls infrequently result in a report.
Overall, the report points to many tasks being requested of police that one doesn't need a badge and gun to perform, not when 78.5 percent of Austin 911 responses don't involve actual crimes. 

For the time being, this to me is the go-to response when critics describe some terrible crime and ask "How would we respond without police?" The answer: Only a small fraction of police time is being spent on those types of crimes! We can scale back other police activities significantly before beginning to interfere with crime response. In the meantime, let's identify the public needs being expressed in those other 78.5% of 911 calls and find other ways to resolve them, to the extent that it's government's job at all.


Phelps said...

I would be all for getting the police out of the traffic accident business. The entire scenario needs to be rethought. There needs to be a squadron that is set up to go out, investigate the accident (if necessary), do the required rescue work, direct traffic, and tow the vehicles themselves. It's a whole ecosystem that is built ad hoc every time from police, fire, and private wreckers when it doesn't need to be.

I disagree on all the "non-crimes" being non-crime calls. Burglar alarm calls should only be answered from actual people, including monitoring services. If you don't have a person who can say that an unauthorized person has or is trying to break into a house (even if it's from cameras) then that could easily be handled by an intern, much less a non-sworn agent of the city. But suspicious persons? Those are at the core of actual police work. Those are the calls that generate the sort of crime fighting that the People have been begging for for decades. They should properly be called suspicious behavior calls, because done right they are based on behavior -- the guy going down the street checking car doors. The guy who ducks out of the alley to look in you neighbor's window. The guy who is trying to sell power tools out of a pickup in the grocery store parking lot. You don't want to send a social worker out for that.

Every cop joined the force, at least at the start, because he wanted to fight crime, not do busywork. Why don't we solicit the police to tell us what parts of their job could be taken over by social workers and specialists?

Phelps said...

"There needs to be" is too strong on the traffic part. Better to say, I think that it would be more effective, efficient and safe to have a specialized squadron, who other than maybe an investigator doesn't need to be sworn officers (including the traffic directors.)

Gadfly said...

Not a city PD but a county issue, for all 254, with a few exceptions of small and small-population counties.

Why do we have constables? Eliminate the damned office statewide by constitutional amendment, which would also require every county SO to have an assistant chief deputy for constabulary functions. It would save election money and politicization.

Rob said...

I agree with most all of this. In Austin, they babysit bar patrons downtown. this should be done by a security team paid for by the bars. Any fights will get you banned from all the bars. Accidents can be handed by first all wreckers also partially paid by the insurance companies. Same for stalled cars, etc,, can the the TxDot HERO trucks or speciality wreckers with lights etc. Habitual speeders can be handled by cameras giving warnings up front and tickets as necessary.. this has been a sore spot because for most all depts traffic tickets make up a lot of their revenue. Civil standby where they stand there and let an ex go and retrieve their stuff from the other ex house. can be done by constables.or officials from the court. A special team to deal with homeless issues to determine their needs.If they are drunk transport them to the drunk tank to stay for 24 hours. No need to respond to medical calls.