AUSTIN (KXAN) — Austin’s police union president is asking Austin Police Department leadership to temporarily limit which calls officers respond to in order to help reduce their exposure to the coronavirus.
This comes as APD’s COVID-19 case numbers have nearly doubled in the past couple of weeks. Austin Police Association President Ken Casaday says multiple officers are testing positive for the virus daily.
According to APD, the department has had 174 total cases of COVID-19 to date, among both its sworn officers and its civilian employees. Of those, 89 are currently active cases.
For comparison, just two weeks ago on Dec. 16, APD told KXAN it’d only had 91 cases total since the pandemic began.
“I think there’s quite a few that have gotten it from work, and there are some that have gotten it from a kid from home or possibly an aunt or uncle coming over or even possibly going out to a restaurant,” Casaday said.
“But the most likely way an officer is going to get it is just dealing with all the different people every day.”
Casaday has asked department leadership to stop sending officers to some minor, non-emergency calls for the next few weeks. He feels officers shouldn’t be responding to minor collisions.
“You know, go out for a fender bender but you’re in people’s faces, you’re touching their driver’s licenses,” he said. “This contact is not needed.”
Casaday also feels some speeding stops should be limited for the time being, even though he recognizes they’re important as roads are emptier during the pandemic and there’s more opportunity for speeding.
“It’s damned if you do and damned if you don’t, because right now, our traffic fatalities are through the roof, and people are speeding all over town,” he said. “When you have people driving those high speeds, when you crash it’s usually not a good result. But, you know, you also want limited contact between the officers and the community, and getting out and then going face to face with a citizen in the door jam of their car might not be the best thing right now.”
Casaday says APD leadership is considering his request.
A spokesperson for the department told KXAN on Wednesday as of right now, the department is sticking to the same response protocols the chief put out in March. That directed officers to respond the same to serious crimes, but to handle lower priority calls that don’t require an officer responding in-person over the phone, or with an online report.