austin police staffing crisis continues to stretch department thin leaving some calls on hold for hours

The Austin, Texas police department may soon make drastic changes to how the capital city is policed, as staffing the staffing crisis continues to stretch resources thin, sometimes leaving calls on hold for hours.

FOX 7 in Austin reported that the police association president, Michael Bullock, said officers are cutting their availability to respond to 911 calls almost in half because the department does not have enough officers to respond.

“We’re about to hit a critical point,” Bullock told the station.

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Austin Police Department. (FOX 7 in Austin)

Last year, the department was on the verge of a staffing collapse after 40 officers filed retirement papers following a 9-2 city council vote to scrap a four-year contract that the city had previously agreed to in principle and instead pursue a 1-year contract that the police union’s board had rejected.

The issue was not money, but instead was about the respect and lack of respect they were getting from the city council, Austin Retired Officers Association President Dennis Farris said at the time.

Bullock said the department lost over 160 officers and over the past year, only 75 were added back.

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Austin police officer

A member of the Austin, Texas police department stands watch during the Gold Cup semifinal match between the United States and Qatar on Thursday July 29th, 2021 at Q2 stadium in Austin,TX.  ((Photo by Nick Tre. Smith/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images))

“Right now, the biggest priority is how we allocate what few resources we have to where it’s the most effective,” he told the station, adding the answer may be to consolidate shifts.

The city has nine sectors, and when staffed, each has about 10 officers working per shift. The shifts, the station reported, often overlap during peak hours to provide better response.

But according to Bullock, that is not happening.

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Austin, Texas skyline

In an aerial view, the downtown skyline is seen on April 11, 2023 in Austin, Texas.  (Brandon Bell/Getty Images)

“Right now, most evening shifts are showing up at around 4 p.m., four officers that might be able to show up, and there are some I know that are at two, and I know there are shifts that have showed up with one officer,” he said.

Not only is it not safe for the officers, but the community is not being served effectively.

“There will be 15 or 20 calls that are holding, that officers have not been able to get to, and they’ve been holding for 2, 4, 10 hours,” Bullock told the station.

Crime stats in the city have not changed much from previous years, and Bullock said that is the case because the department and its officers are “bending over backwards” to do what is needed to maintain staffing, backfill shifts and consolidate schedules.

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Rather than being proactive with calls, the department is being reactive, according to Bullock.

“The changes that are having to come right now are indicative of the staffing crisis and the overall public safety situation that we’re dealing with here in Austin,” he said.

The Austin City Council and then-Mayor Steve Adler voted to gut APD’s funding by about a third in August 2020, leading to a swift officer exodus. The Texas legislature passed a law that effectively forced the city to restore that funding the following year, but the defunding and cancelation of cadet classes left the department well short of its recommended staffing level.  

Andrew Mark Miller of Fox News Digital contributed to this report.

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