Every budget year, public safety – police, fire and EMS – take the biggest chunk of money from the funds used to finance city services. Today, Austin City Council Member Bill Spelman asked if the city was getting a good return on its investment.
The Austin City Council is considering the city budget for the next fiscal year. And the Austin Police Department was among the groups presenting budget requests to the council today. Police Chief Art Acevedo spent over an hour discussing the city manager's proposed city budget – which preserves Austin’s informal policy of two police officers for every thousand Austin residents.
Council member Spelman came prepared for this conversation – as he had prepared several charts outlining calls, responses and crime in Austin since 1999.
- The first chart Spelman showed displayed a remarkably consistent number of dispatch calls from 1999 to 2013 – despite the total Austin population growing significantly since 1999.
- Subsequent slides went on to display an increase in the number of patrol officers, and a slight increase in non-violent crime – while noting the number of investigators doubled over that time.
- The primary question raised by the data – the title of a slide overlaying all the data – was “Why do we need more detectives?”
While Spelman qualified his remarks by stating that there are many factors that statistics can’t encapsulate, he argued Austin has not gotten consistently better results over this time period. “I feel I need also to point out that we actually cleared more crimes in 1999 than in 2013,” he said, “despite the fact that the number of, at least general assignment, detectives more than doubled.”
Acevedo alluded to the need for more security against terrorism as a reason why it is not possible to compare police budgets prior to 9/11 to today’s requirements.
“I think as our footprint increases, in terms of our visibility on an international level, it makes me a lot more nervous as a police chief,” Acevedo said.
The Austin City Council takes up budgetary matters again Aug. 22, as a part of its regular council meeting.