The Austin Police Department has adopted most of the recommendations presented in a consultant’s 2-year-old assessment of the city’s community policing needs, Chief Brian Manley told the Public Safety Commission this week.
But one major recommendation hasn’t been acted on: hiring more than 100 additional officers.
Two years ago, the California-based Matrix Consulting Group, hired by the city to examine community policing practices at the Police Department, recommended adding 132 new officers and eight corporals through 2020. But the Austin City Council, unconvinced that bringing in that many new officers to give police more time to mingle with the community was worth the cost, instead called for hiring a dozen additional officers. The council did not allocate the money to fund those positions and asked the Police Department to find the money within its budget.
This year, Austin police are making the case again for funding to hire 130 new officers over the next two years. Bringing in that many new officers would cost $16 million in recurring costs and $7.5 million in one-time costs, according to city estimates.
“What we’re doing is working with the (city’s) budget office to see what will end up getting put forward” to the City Council, which ultimately decides how many officers the city should pay for, Manley said.
The department funds more than 1,900 police officer positions and is currently 84 officers short, police officials said.
One major obstacle to new hiring is that city officials have told police they don’t want to bring in more officers until the Austin police union has a contract with the city again, according to union President Ken Casaday.
Manley told the Public Safety Commission on Monday that dozens of other changes already have come about as a result of the Matrix report.
“The report really focused on opportunities that we had as a department to improve our connections with the community,” Manley said.
Of the 79 recommendations in the report, 50 have been adopted and 27 are in progress or pending, Manley said.
For example, community policing is now an aspect of each officer’s annual evaluation, and officers are graded on their knowledge of topics, such as appropriate de-escalation techniques and best practices for community policing.
“Oftentimes in police work — no different than in corporate America — what you measure is what you get,” Manley said.
The department has also revamped its recruitment video. The previous video — “like many across the country,” Manley said — highlighted adrenaline-pumping work such as SWAT and bomb squad officers’ calls.
The new video showcases officers interacting with the community, Manley said, “ensuring that we’re recruiting and hiring the people who have the right mentality for policing.”
“What we do is a lot more than writing tickets and making arrests,” a voice-over in the video tells prospective recruits over photos of smiling officers donating blood and interacting with kids. “It’s about being part of Austin, being involved in the community and building trust.”