Tuesday, September 22, 2020

Taking the easy way out: When they choose, Austin cops take the lowest risk assignments and spend lots of time on them

Looking at the 911 call center data discussed in the last post, a notable data point jumps out: When Austin police officers self assign themselves to an activity, they appear to choose the most low-risk, anodyne tasks and spend longer at those than they do ones they're assigned by 911 dispatchers. Technically these are not "calls," in that they are activities that an officer chooses to do and then puts into the "call" system independently of dispatch. They represent about a third of "call" activity.

Here we see that most officer-initiated calls are for Priority 3 incidents, which are defined as "life or property not at risk; immediate response not req'd."

Then the same web page tells us that officers spend more time on these than other types of calls (time in minutes).

So when officers self assign, they mostly take low-risk calls that didn't really require anyone to respond and then spend more time on them than they do on more serious endeavors. Got it.

Perhaps removing the 911 call center from control of the police department (as Houston has already done, btw) will help impose more discipline on how officers spend their time. Honestly, these aren't liberal/conservative questions so much as good-government/managerial ones.


Anonymous said...

The data on time on the scene for priority three calls is a bit more complicated than the screenshots make it appear. For instance, special assignments appear to code for some sort of continuous activity as the average length of a special assignment is over 4 hours with a response time of less than a minute. If special assignments are excluded from the data, time on scene for priority three calls drops to about 59 minutes, which is still more than any category but on par with priority 1 calls.

Personally, I'm cautious about making the judgment about whether officers are wasting time from the time on scene data. For instance, for traffic stops officers spend over double the amount of time on officer-initiated priority traffic calls than they do for caller-initiated stops. Yet officer-initiated time on scene is nearly half that for officer initiated stops as it is for caller initiated stops. I don't know what to make of that data. I don't know what to make of that.

As far as reform goes, for me, the most interesting place to follow up is Geogre Sector, specifically District 1 (the area surrounding E Sixth St.). On calls disposed on without a report, George Sector dominates the amount of officer initiated calls, with an above average time on scene time for priority 3 calls. Further, the total amount of officer-initiated calls that come from George Sector amount to 1/6 of all officer initiated calls.

Of those calls from George Sector, on-site incident, special assignment, suspect stops, and directed patrol, dominate those calls. Determining the outcomes for the suspect stops and on-site incidents where no report was made seems like a worthwhile place to follow up for activists

Lastly, I say to focus on District 1 because the amount of calls coming from this region are disproportionately higher compared to the rest of the region (almost 3 three times as high as any other district).

Anonymous said...

"Perhaps removing the 911 call center from control of the police department (as Houston has already done, btw)..."

Houston's call center has been run by David Cutler, a former HPD assistant chief, for over 15 years, allowing him to obtain not only a police pension but a city executive pension on top of that. While Mr. Cutler is in charge of the building and the 911/call intake aspect of the operation, HFD maintains absolute control of all EMS/Fire calls and HPD handles all police related calls via Captain Fernandez, assistant chief Skillern, and executive assistant chief Finner as well as their usual staff of classified officers.

I can assure you that HPD has given up no control of the process other than adding another layer of bureaucracy while expensing most of it to the Harris County 911 budget which is paid for by those pesky taxes area residents pay on their phones and other electronic devices. Houston's airport system also contributes to the facility using the enterprise fund's money which stays off the city operating budget. But in terms of operational control of calls for service by police officers, HPD's upper management and several ongoing committees call the shots just as they always have, even the quality control for calls is handled by classified officers.

As far as the suggestion that self initiated calls are a waste of time or perhaps officers slacking in some fashion, as a rule that is not the case but the district sergeants that supervise the officers are expected to keep that in check, the dispatcher also plays a role. APD describes self initiated activity like this: "Incidents that are initiated by the officer or take place during discretionary time. These incidents include conducting follow-up investigations, investigating suspicious persons, and routine patrol activities." As anon 9:06 points out above, certain areas show markedly different numbers but in overall terms, trying to evaluate such calls based solely on time is nonsensical given an officer can be hailed down by someone for a serious crime that has not been called in, can on view events that are extremely dangerous and need to be tended to immediately, or just be some follow up or special assignment lasting hours as it is a catch all category.

As far as how "low risk" such calls can be, believe what you want but given they include serving warrants, including felony warrants, or situations where virtually no information is known up front to react to, the risk can vary a great deal more than with a coded call coming in via dispatch. The recently released Datalytics study from this summer gives some insight into the process but falls short of providing the risks involved and the recommendations are about as generic as could be, the same set could describe over 90% of police departments across the country.

Rob said...

I've ridden with the police many times and there is a lot of idle time. For an officer to set on the side of mopac watching for speeders.. they could be there 10 mins or more before they get anything. When they initiate a traffic stop you never know what you are going to get. Sometimes it takes more time than others. This is funny to me because a year or more ago they wanted more community policing. They wanted officers to get out of their car and interact with the public such as a group of boys playing basketball. to go out and talk to them or say hello or shoot a few hoops. now it's all about business and the idle time. Sure there are a lot of things that the officers shouldn't have to do .. they should not have to go out and stand there while an EX moves out or a couple who's fighting demands that the other move out or an eviction. Or to watch a group of kids who appear to be acting suspicious. Or follow a school buss looking for violators. Seat Belt Violators, etc. EMS stand by where they just stand there and watch EMS working on a patient. Do they have to be there. to keep the crowd back? what about standby blocking a street for a fire. When there is some nut threatening to jump and they block off roads for hours. or blocking off roads for construction or because a line is down. A lot of this could be done by non police.

Anonymous said...

Oh look, union workers slacking off on the job. *Surprise!*

Anonymous said...

Anonymous 12:22PM, I think the word “Union” for law enforcement is too frequently overused concerning Texas LE. Outside of Texas, unions in LE might have a big stick. In Texas most are “associations” that at most do little more than provide limited benefits and guidance. Union members can generally walk out and ‘strike’.

Texasyankee said...

A great scoop: Government employees are lazy and goof off at the first chance.

Anonymous said...

Police strikes are illegal. The last one coming to mind was around 40 years ago and that was in a big union supporting state, not down here. The only reason police unions, or associations as anon 05:48 points out, exist in Texas is due to the arbitrary and capricious actions of police management and political leaders demanding sacrificial lambs when something goes wrong. The organizations use dues to pay for lawyers that hold police agencies to following due process and not cutting corners to fire or discipline officers arbitrarily.

I challenge anyone who thinks self initiated police activities are just a way to avoid work to try putting on a uniform themselves. These types of activities, including traffic stops, account for a large percentage of officer deaths.