Austin Police Department is 11 officers short of the 80 officers it needs to police the downtown area, which consistently has the highest crime rate in the city, according to APD Assistant Chief Stephen Deaton.
Deaton addressed some of the challenges the department faces in policing downtown, including understaffing and an expanded entertainment district, at a Public Safety Commission meeting in early April. Deaton cited the long training process as a reason for the shortage of officers.
“It involves the hiring practices as well as the length of time it takes to get somebody from citizen to an officer out on his own,” Deaton said.
APD Assistant Chief Raul Munguia said Austin City Council authorized 47 new officer positions last year, 22 of which will be assigned to the downtown area, but it takes more than a year of training before they begin patrolling.
“Whenever we get the new positions, it can be up to two or two and a half years before you actually see them on the street on their own,” Munguia said. “We used to have one cadet class per year, now we have three, so we’re trying to shorten that time frame. It has helped, however; the number of retirements that we have is increasing.”
Deaton said the expansion of the downtown entertainment district has increased the need for more staffing.
“In years past, when one thought of the entertainment district in the downtown area, you thought of Sixth Street from Red River down to maybe Congress Avenue,” Deaton said. “The entertainment district has really exploded. We traditionally have staffed that thinking of that one little area of Sixth Street and we now have four to five different locations where we’ll have large groups of people.”
The busiest times for police are Friday and Saturday nights, when there are a high number of property crimes, according to Deaton.
“We have a problem with cell phone theft right now,” Deaton said. “We have people that will go to bars and target folks who have left their cell phones on the table while they go to dance, or go to the restroom, or something like that.”
Lt. Troy Officer said another way the department is trying to conserve resources is by referring homeless people with mental illnesses to social service organizations, instead of putting them through the criminal justice system.
“We want to filter out those who are consuming police services, but we’re not the answer for them, and we recognize that it benefits us in the long run,” Officer said.
Bob Woody, who owns more than 20 businesses and venues downtown, said he thinks the existing security on Sixth Street and the surrounding areas is already sufficient.
“There are cops whose job is to be on Sixth Street,” Woody said. “I’m extremely happy with what we have in terms of our walking beat, and I always have been.”