AUSTIN (KXAN) — Facing recruiting challenges and a shortage of more than 100 positions, the Austin Police Department will be moving detectives and other non-patrol officers to the streets to boost the available manpower to respond to 911 calls.
“Nothing we do is more important than responding to 911 calls” said APD Commander Joseph Chacon.
As the population has exploded, the city and the department have struggled to fund and fill positions to keep pace. By asking detectives to work patrol for seven days at a time every four months, Chacon said it is a stopgap measure that helps serve the public’s safety and increase the amount of officers on the street with only a minimal impact on investigations.
“By taking them out for a short period of time, it does not negatively affect caseload for that one week,” said Chacon. “They can schedule their work, their interviews, their case flow around that week.”
But the Austin Police Association does not believe the move is the best way to bridge the staffing gap. Association President Ken Casaday called for better patrol staffing after criticism of recently fired officer Geoffrey Freeman in the deadly shooting of David Joseph. Though he is happy the department is addressing the patrol staffing issue, he said overtime pay for officers already working daily patrol would be the least disruptive and most efficient method.
APD said they were considering putting detectives on patrol even before Joseph’s death.
“We are saying there is money for overtime and there should be money for overtime,” said Casaday. “The city says the department has it and the department says they do not. So someone is not being honest.”
Chacon said although they do try to limit overtime, they do pay officers overtime when necessary and it was not the driving factor in the decision to have detectives patrol.
“This is more about consistency. We know we are going to have a good, strong base of officers working,” said Chacon.
Some detectives on the department have not worked patrol in years and the department will require brief training, a refresher course of sorts, for updated policies. Many detectives wear plain clothes to work, but will be required to wear the standard duty uniform while on patrol. Casaday said detectives will be issued Tasers for patrol and must re-familiarize themselves with the patrol cars that have undergone technological changes over the years. He believes the issue of backfilling patrol positions is an issue that must be worked out when the collective bargaining agreement ends in 2017.
“There are lots of things I don’t think the department thought about when they chose this method,” he said. “[Detectives] are not thrilled with it, but they understand they are police officers and they have to do what the chief tells them to do.”
According to APD, there are 290 designated detective positions and 1,237 officers. There are 656 authorized positions assigned to patrol.