Austin PD program meant to flag struggling officers is not working as intended, audit finds

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(AUSTIN) KXAN — The Austin Police Department’s early intervention system for identifying officers who are struggling is not working effectively, according to a city audit.

The audit was performed as part of the city’s efforts to “Reimagine Public Safety.”

On Wednesday, the Austin City Auditor’s office told the Council Audit and Finance Committee that supervisors who receive the potential warnings are in large part not acting on them or referring those officers to help.

APD’s early intervention system is called the Guided Advisory Program, or GAP.

The GAP electronic program tracks three indicators that an officer may be struggling:

  • Use of force incidents
  • Internal Affairs complaints
  • Excessive use of sick leave (more than 160 hours in a 12 month period)

When an officer crosses the preset threshold for one of those indicators, managers are alerted that the officer may need additional support or intervention.

The idea is that possible concerns are identified early enough to get officers the help they need before their struggles turn into larger issues.

The City Auditor’s office points out that tracking only three indicators of trouble is low compared to some other departments in large cities. San Antonio tracks five, while Dallas tracks six and Houston tracks ten.

Interim Police Chief Joseph Chacon responded to the audit during the committee meeting Wednesday. He told auditors and council members that the technology used for GAP is “basically defunct” and that it has been inaccurately identifying some officers who didn’t meet the GAP threshold while missing others who do.

Chacon told the group the person who wrote the script for the program is no longer a city employee, and no one else in the city’s IT department can fix it. The chief said one APD employee is working to manually go in and make sure the individuals flagged in the program do meet GAP thresholds.

But Chacon said the department’s wellness program also helps identify and provide assistance to employees who are struggling.

“We do clearly recognize that we have officers that need help,” Chacon said. “So our wellness efforts have not stopped and have been very successful in ensuring officers that for whatever reason are having issues are connected with services.”

Auditors say they also found that many supervisors don’t “buy in” to the program and that employees see it as “punitive.” Chacon says as the department shops for new program software, he plans to make it a more robust system, regarded as something that’s helpful, not a punishment.

Council members voted unanimously Wednesday to direct APD to come up with a detailed action plan on the kind of programming needed, a potential cost and a detailed action plan as to how employee intervention will be better administered in the future.

Council member Alison Alter said it would be worth the city’s money to invest in higher quality technology for the program, as well as in other departments.

“We have a pattern that we observe that is not just APD, but across the city where these legacy systems are not getting prioritized and not getting addressed, but they are preventing us from being as data driven as we need to be,” Alter said.

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