AUSTIN (KXAN) — Since the start of the year, the Austin Police Retirement System (APRS) has signed retirement paperwork for 50 officers, and there are an additional 27 “out for signature,” according to Pattie Featherston, the group’s executive director.

Featherston added currently, there are 309 members of the department that could potentially retire immediately: 171 who are fully eligible and 138 who have been with the department for 20 years. Those members have the option to “buy additional service credit” to become eligible for retirement.

APRS provided these numbers on Monday afternoon.

Prior to 2020, APRS had an average of about 50 retirements each year, Featherston said. The year 2020 saw 97, 2021 saw 116 and 2022 saw 97, according to APRS.

Of the 77 potential retirements by the end of March, Featherston said in an email, “this number is dynamic and changing every day, as we have had a lot of activity in recent weeks.”

At this point, Featherston said she could not further break down the timeline of these retirements aside from the fact they occurred and/or are pending in 2023.

“APRS staff are working hard to address member inquiries and process retirements,” she added.

APD’s contract is currently set to expire March 31. Earlier this month, the City of Austin and the Austin Police Association (APA) came to an agreement on a four-year contract following about a year of negotiations.

But Austin City Council later voted 9-2 to pursue a one-year extension agreement with APA instead. The council majority wanted to wait to pursue a long-term deal until voters weigh in on two police oversight measures, which will hit the ballot in May. Council members Alison Alter and Mackenzie Kelly voted against the measure.

After the council made that decision, the APA board unanimously agreed to not enter negotiations regarding that one-year extension and to instead let the police contract expire in March.

Last week, the city council voted on what Mayor Kirk Watson called a safeguard for APD officers when the contract expires.

The Austin Police Department (APD) said in a statement it is “aware of the possibility of upcoming retirements and will be tracking retirements for the foreseeable future. We cannot speculate on how many will retire.” The emailed statement also stated “our officers work hard every day to provide a safer environment with the resources we have at hand.”

“Having a contract would be better, but what happened today was a good faith act by the Austin City Council in order to get us to lift up our police officers and send a message we care about them and we want to have an agreement with them,” Watson said Thursday.

Last week, APA President Thomas Villarreal said this option still doesn’t provide the stability of a contract.

“These ordinances can be changed at any council meeting or vote,” he said. “It’s helpful, but it’s not as helpful as a contract.”

A memo to the mayor and city council on Feb. 6 from the labor relations officer, city attorney and police chief stated the lack of a four-year contract ultimately lands Austin with a weaker police oversight model. It also addressed concerns about how the absence of a contract would impact the recruitment and retention of officers.

Watson sent KXAN the following statement when we asked about the retirement numbers:

The Austin City Council unanimously passed an ordinance on Thursday that guarantees officers the same benefits, stipends, wages, and retirement they receive under the current contract, even if we don’t get a new contract with the Austin Police Association. And we directed the City Manager to develop a plan to give officers a pay raise and address the current shortage of police officers by offering retention and recruitment incentives as well as a financial incentive for the Austin Police Association to resume contract talks with the City.

Some Austin officers had already decided to retire prior to the adoption of the ordinance on Thursday, but my hope is that those still considering their options will see this ordinance as a demonstration of good faith by the City Council. If they were retiring to protect the benefits in their contract, the guarantees in the ordinance mean they don’t have to retire. And we want them to stay.

We are doing this at the same time we’re assuring police accountability and, very importantly, protecting the right of people to petition their government and vote on two competing ballot initiatives related to police oversight this May, as allowed by our City Charter. Many people who want the City Council to just approve a four-year contract don’t appreciate or accept that doing so would effectively silence Austin voters in May. As Mayor, I need to protect their rights, too.

This ordinance is how we strike a balance that serves the needs of the officers and the community

Mayor Kirk Watson, City of Austin

Council Member Mackenzie Kelly said “unfortunately, we are at a point of no return with the Austin Police officers who have left and those who have plans to leave due to how the contract negotiations have played out over the last few weeks.”

She added that she was “hopeful” APA would come back to the negotiating table and that she remains committed to providing APD officers with the pay and incentives needed to continue their careers here in Austin.

APD said it ” will continue strategizing about providing safety to the community and with other tasks ranging from Patrol to Investigations.”