APD hiring new officers to fill gaps, but command wants hundreds more

Chasity Salazar, right, and a fellow new officer pose for a picture after their academy graduation on June 23, 2017. (KXAN Photo/Chris Davis)
Chasity Salazar, right, and a fellow new officer pose for a picture after their academy graduation on June 23, 2017. (KXAN Photo/Chris Davis)

AUSTIN (KXAN) — The Austin Police Department grew by 70 officers Friday, as members of the 136th cadet class graduated and received their badges.

The cadets, who recently completed their 30-week training course, walked across the stage at the AISD Performing Arts Center in front of friends and family members, shaking hands with Chief Brian Manley and command staff.

The new officers help fill 109 positions vacant within the department, according to the APD recruitment divison’s numbers. Combine that with a class that graduates in December, and APD says the department should be fully staffed to budgeted levels by the end of the year.

It’s still far short of where the department would like to be, but department leaders say it’s another good step.

“A lot of hard work went into today,” Chasity Salazar, one of Friday’s graduates, said as family and fellow new officers posed for photo after photo. “There were a couple of days that were rough, but I knew what I wanted to do so I stuck with it.”

The police academy started rough for her, too; an APD doctor had bad news.

“My whole life I had a hole in my heart that I didn’t know about,” she said. “Half-dollar size hole; I needed to have open heart surgery. And I had open heart surgery Aug. 10 of last year, joined the academy 15 weeks later.”

Thirty weeks since then, Salazar was one of the 70 cadets joining APD’s ranks.

“Doesn’t get much more exciting,” Chief Brian Manley said in an interview after the ceremony. But he added it’s not enough; APD has fought staffing shortages for years. They’re doing far better now, Manley said, and they want to bump up their numbers even more to the levels multiple city-funded studies have recommended.

“We’re willing to work with city council, explaining what we would do with the additional officers, how the city would benefit with the additional officers,” he said.

During a budget presentation at a public safety committee meeting earlier this month, department leaders requested funding for 81 new positions next year and 329 new positions over the next five to keep pace with the city’s growth.

“It’s all about priorities,” Austin Police Association President Ken Casaday said. “Hopefully we’ll get more officers this year in our budget.”

Casaday applauded the department for filling vacancies by hiring officers from across the country, but he said APD’s numbers are way behind where they need to be. He, too, presented his case to increase the department’s budget.

“They asked me my recommendation,” he said. “I said we’d need at least 400 more officers.” More officers on the street, Manley said, would mean greater ability to focus on community policing. Instead of chasing down crimes and responding to calls, officers can mingle with the people they serve.

“You know,” Manley said, “at the end of the day we’re going to make it work with what we are given.”

Friday’s graduation was a good step — both for the cadets and the department looking to hire hundreds more people with commitment like Salazar.

“Give us a call,” she told the people of Austin. “We’ll be there.”

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