As APD takes SUVs out of service, slower response time concerns surface

FILE: Austin Police Department vehicle. (KXAN Photo/Chris Davis)
FILE: Austin Police Department vehicle. (KXAN Photo/Chris Davis)

AUSTIN (KXAN) — The Austin Police Department’s plan to double-up officers in available patrol cars after pulling nearly 400 police SUVs off the road has some in Austin concerned response times will suffer as a result.

City officials on Friday announced the decision to stop using all Ford Explorer Police Interceptor units after dozens of reports of carbon monoxide leaking into passenger cabins. Twenty officers tested positive for carbon monoxide.

Instead, APD will rely on other types of patrol cars like Ford Crown Victoria models, and will move to two-officer teams in each. At peak staffing, the department will need 206 cars, Chief Brian Manley said at Friday’s news conference.

Some worry that won’t be enough to respond to crime in the city.

“Violent crime is on the increase,” Nick Pellicciotto said. He’s the president of the Highland Neighborhood Association, overseeing an area cradled by Interstate 35 and US 183 in north Austin. Just this week, a business owner was shot and killed on Guadalupe Street, just around the corner from where Pellicciotto lives in Highland.

“People with families are moving into the neighborhood,” he said, “so, you know, I think there’s a fair amount of concern.”

He hasn’t just heard complaints from neighbors about slow police response — most of them for non-urgent matters — he’s lived it.

“My house was broken into and it took APD 45 minutes to get to my house,” he said. That was in October, and while he admits the call was not an emergency, he was “unnerved” coming home to a burglarized house and having to wait so long for the police to show up.

It’s those kinds of concerns Manley tried to assuage.

“We will have the exact same number of officers on duty every single night,” he told reporters. “However, they will be doubled up.”

The police chief conceded having fewer cars on the street could slow responses. Data from the department show the time it takes for police to get to a call has been increasing since 2011.

But in 2016, according to records obtained by KXAN, response times stayed about the same or even improved compared to the year before, and approached the department’s targets.

Citywide, it took Austin police on average six minutes, 42 seconds to respond to a highest-priority call (called a “hotshot”) in 2016, the records show. That’s two seconds slower than the year before, and two seconds shy of the target of 6:40.

The next-highest priority, priority 1 calls, averaged a response time of 8:44, three seconds faster than 2015, but still a second slower than APD’s goal. For priority 3 calls, APD’s response time clocked in at an average of 48:47.

Over the course of the year, the data show, the department recorded more than 1.2 million calls, both emergency and non-emergency.

Manley said Friday his department’s reliance on data will help during the time there will be fewer patrol cars on the streets.

“We’re going to look to see if there’s an increase in crime in a certain neighborhood, or a new crime hot spot that pops up,” he said, “or if response times are impacted more greatly in one part of the city than another.”

“It’s hard to imagine it not affecting that,” Pellicciotto said.

The neighborhood association president has a good relationship with APD, he said, especially with the district representative who works in the area. His burglary call might not have been a high priority, but police were able to recover some of his property.

“APD really did a great job ultimately,” he said, adding he doesn’t want to see that good relationship sour over slowing responses.

Austin Police Association President Ken Casaday told KXAN he doesn’t think responses to high-priority calls will be affected. He called the fleet issue a “bump in the road,” and said officers will continue to do their jobs.

Manley said Austinites who feel their safety is in jeopardy should continue to call 911, but for non-emergency matters, he said, use APD’s online reporting system or 311.

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