AUSTIN (KXAN) — The Austin Police Department (APD) gave more insight on changes to call routing and non-emergency response services Wednesday afternoon.

Last week, the department announced it is directing people to use or call 311 — not 911 — to report crimes that are no longer in progress.

“Please understand, if somebody is in danger, we’re still going to send a marked unit and a uniformed officer to go handle it,” Interim Austin Police Chief Joseph Chacon explained. “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.”

In a virtual Q&A session Wednesday, Chacon reiterated he just wanted to clear up confusion and provide reassurance to the public that safety is APD’s priority. He outlined what is considered a non-emergency call:

  • when the incident is no longer in progress,
  • when the suspect or people involved are no longer on scene,
  • and when there is no further immediate threat to life or property.

“If the call you’re calling about does not meet all that criteria, then we define that as an emergency call, that a call to 911 is appropriate,” he further explained.

Chacon also gave a list of crimes or calls that could be impacted or considered non-emergencies:

  • Animal services
  • Attempted theft of property
  • Burglary of residence, business or vehicle
  • Crashes between vehicles that don’t require a tow, there are no injuries, both drivers have proof of insurance and a driver’s license and neither driver is impaired
  • Verbal disturbances
  • Prostitution
  • Suspicious person or vehicle
  • Theft

“Again, if any on that list are still in progress, and there is an immediate threat to public safety, then a call to 911 is appropriate, and we will dispatch an officer,” Chacon reassured the public.

A viewer in North Carolina reached out to KXAN just hours before APD explained its changes. Darin Short told KXAN his daughter came to Austin with 12 friends for a bachelorette party on Sept. 12. He showed us an incident report, which states around 3:30 a.m., the home they were renting through VRBO on Holly Street was burglarized. He says computers, phones and cameras were stolen.

“They proceeded to call the police and were referred to 311, who instructed them to start an online report. And no law enforcement official arrived at the location,” Short explained.

He says for weeks, his daughter and friends have been waiting to hear from APD to learn if an investigation has been launched. On Wednesday afternoon, they got an answer saying within 48 hours an officer should contact them.

Safehorns, a nonprofit working to improve safety at the University of Texas and surrounding neighborhoods, says given the changes, the group hopes the city should add more cameras and lighting in areas around UT.

“What’s concerning to us is the crimes that they’re talking about many times or what impact our students [and surrounding neighborhoods],” said Joell McNew, president of Safehorns.

Chacon said whether reports are taken by an officer on scene or submitted online by the public, all reports are still routed to investigative units and will be followed up with.

The department says the changes come amid staffing challenges and its review of patrol COVID-19 mitigation protocols, which started in May 2020. The department is trying to reduce virus exposure risk for both the public and APD officers.

Chacon also added Wednesday many of these recommendations come from the Reimagining Public Safety Task Force.

KXAN checked in with 311 and a spokesperson said its department doesn’t have staffing shortages. 311 clarified 911 calls will still be answered by 911 operators, and 311 has been answering non-emergency calls for the police since 2007.

When a call is considered a non-emergency, 311 says it will enter a service request for the APD non-emergency division. That division will look at the request and provide a callback to the person who made the report with a case number, if applicable.

311 says it operates 24/7 and residents can dial 311 or (512) 974-2000 to receive help.