Travis Co. short dozens of deputies, impacting response time

FILE - Travis County Sheriff's Office (KXAN File Photo)
FILE - Travis County Sheriff's Office (KXAN File Photo)

AUSTIN (KXAN) — The Travis County Sheriff’s Office says its response time is getting longer because they need dozens more deputies.

“If you’re a victim or have been a victim of a crime, we can’t get there quick enough,” said Chief Deputy Jim Sylvester. “One or two minutes may be too long.”

He and other deputies take an oath to protect and defend those who can’t defend themselves. However, as Travis County grows, fulfilling that oath gets harder.

“We get comments all the time, ‘Why’s it taking so long to get there to the scene? Why did I not see an officer in my neighborhood?'” said Sylvester.

Sylvester says it’s taking longer to get to the most critical calls. Some of those incidents include sexual assault, serious bodily injury, in-progress crimes, burglary and robbery.

“Only 70 percent of those we can get to in nine minutes or less,” explains Sylvester. “Thirty percent of those calls, Priority 1 calls, it takes longer than nine minutes for emergency response.”

Nationally, the International Association Chief of Police and Department of Justice recommend all law enforcement agencies be at 1.9 officers per 1,000 population. Travis County is currently at 1.33. To be at the national average, 1.75, they would need about 97 deputies. The department is asking commissioners in upcoming budget talks to fund about 60 full-time employees, costing more than $8 million. However, that number could get cut more in the coming months.

Among the requests: eight patrol deputies, four DWI deputies and one child abuse detective. The department is also requesting seven positions required through the Micheal Morton Act; those alone total $644,488.

“My biggest fear is the response time will grow,” said Sylvester. “Next year, it won’t be 30 percent, it may be 40 percent, or nine minutes or longer for response time.”

The department has been gathering supporting evidence for their requests and will show those numbers to county commissioners.

“We will begin conversing. They with us, us with them, they with the budget office, the budget office with us. The commissioners will have to decide on a tax rate,” said Precinct 4 County Commissioner Margaret Gomez. “Based on that affordability, that tax rate, then we’ll know how much we have available to address the needs of the all the county departments.”

Gomez, along with other commissioners, will make budget decisions in the coming months.

“For instance, you’re asking for 10 people, the data shows you need five, and then they negotiate back and forth.”

Gomez says budget requests are due in May and finalized in September.

Sylvester asks residents to reach out to their county commissioners, especially if they’ve been impacted by the deputy shortage.

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