Lack of police officers delays response times, forces more overtime shifts

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Photo Credit: Sam Ortega | Daily Texan Staff

Austin police officers often delay action when responding to low-priority crimes around the city, such as petty theft, due to a lack of officers.

Currently, the department is understaffed with at least 118 vacancies.  Austin Police Department Commander Troy Officer said the shortage is a result of the city’s rapid
population growth.

“The city has grown faster than the police department has been able to expand,” Officer said. “You have to plan years ahead to maintain your authorized strength, but when your city is growing as fast as we have and the police department has not grown to meet that challenge, you start falling into a shortage, and I think that’s where we are at this point.”

Officer said APD is not sure if crime rates for lower-level crimes have increased significantly despite the delay in response times.

The shortage in Austin is not unique and is part of a nationwide problem of police departments operating without a full staff, according to Officer. He said the time-consuming qualification process makes it difficult to hire new officers.

Officer said APD is taking initiative by increasing staff involvement in recruiting and training programs to produce an appropriate sized workforce for the city. APD Commander Darryl Jamail said the department compensates for vacancies by recruiting officers to serve overtime. Jamail said overtime officers provide immediate responses to high-priority calls that have a potential impact on public safety such as car crashes, robberies or assaults.

“We are going to allocate our resources to be sure those calls that affect public safety are answered on time,” Jamail said. “However, some of the less urgent calls may be delayed because of the shortage because we don’t have the officers we would if we were fully staffed.”

Instead of 40-hour work weeks, some officers work 60 hours a week. While requiring officers to work overtime is essential due to the shortage, Officer said there are consequences in the extended hours officers commit to the job. According to Officer, this difference in time commitment can be draining and potentially result in officers retiring, quitting or suffering injuries.

“In the long term, it’s not good for individual officers or the department if you’re constantly maximizing the number of hours your officers work,” Officer said. “Plus, when emergencies come up, you don’t want to have to pull from existing resources; you always want to have reserved resources to pull from.”

UTPD Captain Don Verett said while University officers work closely with APD, their primary jurisdiction is any property owned, leased or rented by the UT System. He said the staffing levels of APD do not significantly affect the actions of UTPD.

Verett said more UTPD officers have started patrolling areas close to campus, such as Guadalupe Street, on bicycle and on foot in order to ensure the safety
of students.

“Our primary responsibility is the main campus, but we realize we have high concentrations of students living in the area west of campus,” Verett said. “We have a responsibility to keep our people safe so we’re going to be out patrolling in those areas where there’s either reports of crime or a perception that things are not safe.”