APD officials question city council’s potential budget cuts

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City council members debated potential cuts to the Austin Police Department on Monday during the first reading and review of the 2012 city budget.

Council members discussed and proposed amendments to individual line items on the budget throughout the day, and a second reading will take place Tuesday at City Hall. The original budget lifted $3 million from the police force by delaying cadet class schedules and reducing overtime for sworn personnel. Council members voted to conduct a study of police force utilization after much debate about additional cutbacks to APD proposed by council member Bill Spelman. While the original budget made room to hire 47 new police force members, Spelman proposed the number be decreased to 31.

“Essentially [the study] is going to look at what are our community’s goals in terms of public safety, how we are currently using our officers to meet those goals and what changes we should take to more effectively use the resources we have,” said Barksdale English, policy aide for Spelman.

The city currently maintains a ratio of two police officers per 1,000 Austin residents. English said the results of the study could establish the current ratio as sufficient or indicate a need for more or less police force members. City officials do not yet have a time line for when the study will take place, he said.

Austin Police Chief Art Acevedo debated the idea of cutting police officers during the budget reading, stating a decrease in officers would produce a negative outcome.

Austin Police Association president Wayne Vincent agreed.

Vincent said he feels APD currently operates at minimum capacity, and he believes making further reductions based on a “theoretical study” would be a great mistake.

“The more visible the police are, the less crime there is,” Vincent said. “It’s been proven time and again.”

Vincent said possible cuts to APD could also place strain on the UT Police Department.

UT Police Chief Robert Dahlstrom said both police departments work together as necessary, but cuts to APD police numbers may not directly affect the UT campus and surrounding areas.

“If they were cutting back on those officers assigned to this area then it could affect us,” Dahlstrom said. “It will certainly affect the city as a whole though. When you cut back on officers, some of that crime will have to be prioritized.”

Dahlstrom said lower crime activities, such as graffiti or minor thefts, may not be followed up on if police officers are taking care of higher priorities. Dahlstrom said he hopes, however, that more crime would not be encouraged because of the lack of attention to these areas or less visible police patrol.

Printed on September 13, 2011 as: City council discusses cuts to police forces, may see rise in crime