City council plans to add 30 APD officers, critics push for different focus

Austin

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Austin City Council members passed the city’s fiscal year 2020-2021 budget Tuesday. In it, the city authorized funding for 30 additional police officers.

The addition of the extra officers is part of the city’s plan to add 30 officers a year over a four-year time period. The 2020-21 budget falls under year two of the four-year plan. Although the plan is to add new officers each year, the police department still must push for funding and authorization during budget talks.

20 of the spots will be for patrol officers and 10 will be supervisors.

Austin Police Chief Brian Manley explained that with 103 vacancies in the department as of last week, there’s no way all of those positions plus an additional 30 will actually be filled in the next year.

But as the department works to recruit new hires, Manley says: “We know that we will have overtime needs throughout the year to backfill for these vacant positions, and so these dollars would help us cover that budget, because our overtime budget is not enough to address that.”

Critics argue APD is already having a hard enough time filling vacant positions already on the police force.

Advocacy groups pushed for the money that would fund hiring 30 more officers to go toward staffing of paramedics and mental health professionals, instead.

“We have situations where people have a mental health need and the best person to respond in that situation is a mental health professional, not necessarily a police officer,” said Chris Harris, Data and Policy Analyst for advocacy group Just Liberty.

Executive Director of the Greater Austin Crime Commission, Cary Roberts, agrees more mental health resources are needed, but he says that is a separate discussion. Roberts that as Austin continues to grow, its police force must grow, too.

“It’s important because of growth being a number one public safety challenge that we build capacity for the police department to grow with the city, so they can handle calls for service, improve response times and make our community a safer place to live.”

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