APD 311 diversion helps with emergencies, creates backlog for low-level crimes

Crime

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Online non-emergency crime reports in 2021 went up 158% from 2020.

Austin Police Department announced last year that starting Oct. 1, non-emergency crimes should start going to 311 or iReportAustin.com instead of 911.

Even if a report is entered over the phone or using iReportAustin, those reports are still routed to detectives,” said Lt. Kenneth Murphy, head of APD’s communications division. “And if there are investigatory leads, detectives will follow up with the complainants and we will still investigate all cases.”

Data shows that in 2019, 103,548 low-priority calls went to 911 operators. In 2021, that number dropped to 50,173.

“Therefore we are freeing up officers to be able to respond to those higher priority calls,” said Lt. Murphy, like the December fire where officers saved a 10-year-old girl from her burning apartment.

In November, a man shot downtown credits APD’s quick response time with saving his life.

APD communications data Dec. 2021
APD communications data comparing 2020 and 2021.

But he admits there’s a backlog when it comes to low-priority calls.

“We are hopeful we’ll have a solution within the near future where we can eliminate the backlog in both online reporting and 311 reports,” he said. “We completely understand and emphasize and understand their situation, and their report is important. We are doing everything we can within the police department including looking at new technology to bring in to solve this situation.”

In December, Marcus Dubois woke up to a brick smashed through his truck.

He says he went online to report the crime.

“Basically the whole internet setup/dropdown menu was kind of clunky, so I had to drop it and dial into 311,” he said. Then, he says he had to speak to multiple people to file the report.

Dubois says a detective got back with him a couple of days later, but the case was ultimately closed and nothing could be done.

He understood but says the actual reporting process was a nightmare and should have only taken about 5 minutes.

Amy Morales is one of the first people KXAN spoke with about the change.

“We are a small business in the city of Austin, so a $50,000 hit is a lot of money,” she said. She tells KXAN she still hasn’t gotten answers on a theft she reported from her construction site in October.

“I’m not going to bash our police because we need them. I just would like more of… communication, like, you know, ‘We’re working on it,” she said.

Lieutenant Murphy says staffing struggles in the communications department contribute to the backlog. Two years ago, he said the department would get 100-200 applicants for a single posting. Now? Only 50-60 applicants. Due to the stringent job requirements, the hire rate is typically only 2-3%, he said.

Anyone interested in applying to be a 911 operator can apply through the city’s website.

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