Austin PD weighs dispatching non-sworn personnel to some calls

The proposal gave several examples, such as home burglaries where the burglar has left the scene

By Tony Plohetski
Austin American-Statesman

AUSTIN, Texas — Austin Police Department officials are finalizing plans to dispatch civilians instead of police officers to certain types of calls that do not involve emergencies as a way to maximize patrol staffing and respond to reformers' demands for change.

Interim Police Chief Joe Chacon hinted at his plan Wednesday during an announcement that he would step into the job permanently, pending City Council confirmation Thursday.

On Friday, the department released more information about the plan, which is likely to be announced this week.

"The Austin Police Department regularly reviews response policies and procedures to ensure APD prioritizes calls with an immediate threat to life or property over non-emergency calls for service," the department said in a statement. "As a result of a recent review ... recent staffing challenges and aligning with the Reimagining Public Safety Task Force patrol response recommendations, APD will change call routing and response for non-emergency calls for service effective Oct. 1."

A draft proposal gave several examples, such as sending civilians to home burglaries in which there is no burglar at the scene. The department is expected to release a more detailed list as early as this week.

People with nonemergency complaints will be urged to call 311 instead of 911.

In an interview with Fox News, Ken Casaday, president of the Austin Police Association, criticized the plan, telling the network Thursday that staffing shortages affect policing.

"It's not providing service to the community," he said. "The community needs to understand that we're under a dire staffing crisis."

The American-Statesman reported in a recent series about police reform that by June more than 130 officers had left the department in the past year. Meanwhile, City Council members last year canceled three cadet classes to give officials time to modify the police academy, leaving the department with no rookies to replace them.

A group of about 70 cadets will begin patrols early next year.

Reformers have pushed the city to use officers for calls that necessitate police, saying that civilians who work for the department could respond to other types of requests in which a report would be filed or fingerprints taken from a scene.

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McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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