Department leaders still developing plans for meeting minimum staffing goals for patrols, reducing crime.
City officials have proposed slashing the Austin Police Department’s overtime spending 25 percent next year after several years of ballooning expenses.
In the proposed 2007 city budget released Thursday, the city allocated $7.1 million for police overtime, which is used to help the department meet staffing goals, fill gaps created by vacant positions and patrol special events such as Mardi Gras and Halloween on Sixth Street.
The department estimates that this year’s overtime expenses will reach $9.5 million through September, the end of the fiscal year.
“Our goal is to reduce overtime costs, but clearly our priority is public safety,” said Assistant City Manager Rudy Garza, who helped draft the proposal. “Whatever we do, it will not result in any compromise to public safety.”
The department has relied on overtime to meet staffing goals for five years after creating a policy of having a minimum staffing level of 80 percent for routine patrols, meaning that at least eight officers must show up to work for every 10 scheduled.
Supervisors were given the authority to use overtime when staffing levels dipped below 80 percent.
Since then, violent crime has dropped â€” Austin last year was the third-safest major U.S. city, according to the FBI â€” but the bill for overtime for routine patrols has increased 468 percent.
The proposed cutback comes almost two months after the Austin American-Statesman published a report about the rising costs. The Austin City Council will vote on the $525 million proposed budget in mid-September.
Assistant Police Chief David Carter said Friday that department leaders are developing plans to help keep them within their overtime budget while meeting staffing goals and reducing crime.
Overall, the department now has about four dozen vacancies, and Carter said the department’s priority will be filling patrol jobs.
However, Mike Sheffield, president of the Austin Police Association, said he thinks the city will continue to struggle to meet its 80 percent staffing goal.
“That directly affects the visibility of officers, and, more importantly, when you call 911, it will mean that the response times for officers responding will be increased,” Sheffield said.
Carter said the department may temporarily stop allowing some patrol officers to leave the street to transfer to special units, such as when their precincts have several vacancies.
Carter said supervisors of those special units, including so-called street response units that target crimes such as prostitution and drug dealing, may also have vacancies for longer periods.
“We have to be a learning organization and realize if your resources are cut, we have to ask ourselves, ‘Are we being efficient? Are we being effective with what we use?’ ” Carter said. “We as a department have to do a better job in conducting business along those lines and looking at that.”