AUSTIN (KXAN) — Come Oct. 1, the Austin Police Department will more carefully be looking at how it responds to non-emergency calls and who it designates to send to one of these reports, due to staffing challenges.
This comes on the heels of the announcement that Austin City Manager Spencer Cronk chose Interim APD Chief Joseph Chacon to lead the department permanently. The decision still has to be approved by Austin City Council.
“APD will change call routing and response for non-emergency calls for service effective October 1, 2021,” the department said Wednesday in a statement to KXAN.
APD is directing people to use iReportAustin.com or call 311 — not 911 — to report crimes that are no longer in progress. This includes when the suspect is no longer at the scene or in sight, and there is no immediate threat to life or property, according to the department. 911 can still be used to report emergencies.
APD said the change comes after a recent review of its patrol COVID-19 mitigation protocols enacted in May 2020 and staffing challenges. The change is also more aligned with the new reimagining public safety task force patrol response recommendations, according to the department.
“So we are looking at response protocols that are directly related to the staffing to determine if there are opportunities to have either a civilian unit within the department go ahead and handle it, as opposed to sending a uniformed officer to the scene, depending on the criticality,” Chacon explained on Wednesday. “Please understand, if somebody is in danger, we’re still going to send a marked unit and a uniformed officer to go handle it. But for crimes that may have already happened and are now being reported, we are looking at alternative measures, and that’s what we’re working on now.”
For example, someone like a crime technician would go to the scene and gather evidence, like a suspect’s fingerprints, to further investigate.
Save Austin Now, an organization that’s pushing for more officers and more money for APD, posted a claim on social media Wednesday in regard to the department’s staffing shortage. In the claim, the group said officers would no longer respond to crimes like some home burglaries and car thefts if the suspect has left the scene.
Council member Greg Casar’s office told KXAN that’s not true and misleading.
APD reiterated it regularly looks at response procedures to make sure it is always prioritizing calls with an immediate threat to life. As of right now, Chacon said he hasn’t enacted any major changes to begin Oct. 1, as Save Austin Now claimed.