Commentary: Why Austin city leaders should invest in public safety

  • Members of the Austin Police Association
  • Special to the American-Statesman
Nov 29, 2017
Reshma Kirpalani
Austin police officer Tuhwan Kim walks through the Gallewood Gardens apartments in North Austin during a community policing initative in 2016.

As one of the fastest growing cities in the country, Austin also ranks as one of the safest cities in the U.S.

But that didn’t happen by accident.

Our community’s safety is largely due to the decisions by previous City Councils to invest in a police department of the highest quality. As more people move to Austin, we cannot pull back on this investment. If anything, we need to work harder to maintain the expectation our community has when it comes to public safety.

If Austin residents expect to maintain the quality of life we have come to enjoy, we must ensure that the pace of city growth is matched with a continued commitment to recruitment and retention of the highest quality of law enforcement officers. It is of the utmost importance that our city leaders continue to invest in the Austin Police Department and the community we value.

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Austin is recognized as one of the most challenging cities in the state to be a police officer. Considering that the city has explosive growth and hosts festivals, conventions and large events that bring millions of visitors annually, our officers do more than their colleagues in other parts of Texas. They deserve to be compensated fairly for not just addressing crime but also preventing it.

It is important our community understands that the pool of people willing to pursue careers in law enforcement is small — and the top talent pool is even smaller. If we do not incentivize top officer applicants to seek employment with our city, they will go to other cities and communities.

It is not breaking news that the cost of living in Austin has increased dramatically, resulting in our emergency services personnel moving beyond the city limits or to other communities. To remain competitive and to compensate for an ever-increasing cost of living, we must continue to provide investment in public safety and maintain a standard cost-of-living salary increase for those who put their lives in danger to protect ours.

CITY HALL: Proposed police contract heads for City Council after union approval.

The Austin Police Association’s contract offer addresses these issues and is a clear benefit for the community. It calls for annual salary increases of 1.9 percent for five years, but the fiscal footprint of police salaries in the general fund would decrease from 27.4 percent in fiscal year 2017 to 24.5 percent in 2022, marking the second consecutive contract in which spending on police salaries would decrease. This is unprecedented. The savings it creates will enable the city to further enact the property tax homestead exemption or spend more on health and human services. It can do that even while hiring more than 200 officers over the next five years to accommodate our growth.

As one of the most scrutinized police forces in the country, the transparency negotiated in our proposed contract is unprecedented. The civilian oversight that the association has agreed to gives the community unfettered access to investigations into officer complaints.

Without a fair contract, transparency for the community will suffer. With the recent vote of 85 percent of our members in favor of the proposed contract, our officers have shown they wholeheartedly support the community’s values with regard to civilian oversight and transparency.

Everyone wants the same thing” good cops and a safe city. Previous Austin City Councils have invested in safety — and we see the results in our quality of life. We are asking today’s City Council to continue that leadership and keep our community safe. Public safety should be every city council’s No. 1 priority.

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