AUSTIN (KXAN) - Austin's police chief says the city's community policing model which involves a highly visible and mobile police component is on "life support."
Chief Art Acevedo told the Public Safety Commission that lagging response times to the most urgent of calls and less uncommitted time for officers threaten the city's quality of life as growth continues unabated.
Response time goals to so-called "hot shot" calls are less than six minutes, 53 seconds. Actual average response times have been seven minutes, 59 seconds, off by nearly a minute in a business where many law enforcement professionals would agree that seconds count.
In addition, the time officers have to problem-solve or actually engage one-on-one with community members is shrinking to just 15 percent of their overall on-duty time. Less than a year ago, it was closer to 22 percent, according to an independent 2012 study dubbed the PERF report.
That's why the chief is echoing his call for 92 more officers this coming budget year. It includes 47 recommended in the PERF report, plus 45 more officers to keep up the pressure on the criminal element in Austin's downtown area.
Acevedo also told commissioners he foresees a "perfect storm" of three elements that could spark a crime wave in Austin, an urban area now touting its new reputation as the 11th largest city in America.
"The growth, the limited [and stretched police] resources and the [criminal justice system] mentality [in Travis County] of live-and-let-live where people, that in other communities would be in prison, end up being out on the streets reoffending," he said.
Acevedo is also asking for $415,000 to augment overtime for special high visibility programs such as the Public Order Initiative, which recently helped cut violent crime downtown by 40 percent and residential burglaries by 46 percent over a series of four months.
Commander Jason Dusterhoft, who oversees the downtown policing area, told commissioners the success of such programs relies on the broken window theory -- enacting a zero-tolerance policy for low-level crimes such as vandalism and graffiti -- in the hope of curbing high-level criminals that move into neglected neighborhoods.
"I think it's working," he told commissioners. "I think the numbers show that it's working, but without the funding and without the resources, I'm going to be honest, I think we'd be hard-pressed to keep it up."
Dusterhoft says once those special initiatives end, extra officers diverted from other zones and units go back to their regular jobs. He said that leaves the downtown essentially underserved.
In public speeches, Acevedo has made the point that peoples impression of a city starts with the perceived safety of its downtown, from the presence of aggressive panhandling to more violent crimes. He argues sustaining high intensity anti-crime, as well as traffic safety programs, can be viewed as the root of a business model to keep the local economy strong.
In the last couple years, the number of people living downtown as more than doubled from 4,000 to 9,800. There are also 6,000 hotel rooms and a commercial building lease rate approaching 90 percent, according to Bill Brice, with the Downtown Austin Alliance.
More than 100 trees covered in lights now shine bright throughout Zilker Park. The Trail of Lights is open for another season.
A 10-year-old was killed while standing outside of a vehicle which lost control during the icy conditions, DPS said.
Travis County non-profit Center for Child Protection will benefit next March from an all day fundraiser at the Circuit of the Americas that will see plenty of donors racing on the track.
Travis County District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg heads to court this week as a defendant in a civil trial that could oust her from office.
Santa visited Austin early on Sunday, joining hundreds of motorcyclists for their annual Toy Run.
Late Saturday night into early Sunday morning, a light band of freezing drizzle traversed the I-35 corridor eastward. With sub-freezing temperatures, even the light precipitation created major problems.