Taking a look at Austin's community policing effort, a city audit found that police have little time to engage with people outside of responding to crime and that the department needs better tracking of such initiatives.
(TNS) — Taking a hard look at community policing efforts in Austin, Texas, a city audit found that police have little time to engage with people outside of responding to crime and that the department needs better methods of tracking such initiatives.
In community policing, officers embed themselves in an area to build connections between the community and the department, said Alfred S. Titus Jr., an assistant professor of criminal justice and research at John Jay College of Criminal Justice.
"The main idea that most people consider when they think of community policing is that it allows the community to understand that the police are regular people, they're not to be feared," Titus said.
It also helps officers who are not from the neighborhood they're patrolling to feel less like an outsider, he said.
The audit, whose findings were released Wednesday, looked into community policing efforts after the Austin Police Department requested a follow-up to a 2016 audit, City Auditor Corrie Stokes said.
In 2016, Matrix Consulting gave the city 60 recommendations. By August 2019, according to a draft of the latest audit, the department had implemented 40 of them.
Three key findings emerged from the latest audit:
The city's Audit and Finance Committee unanimously approved the audit on Wednesday.
Auditors recommended the department create and implement a process for measuring and reporting the effectiveness of its community policing.
They also recommended that a plan be made to ensure officers have time to engage with the community outside of responding to calls.
Police Chief of Staff Troy Gay on Wednesday said the department agrees with the recommendations, and police are trying to tack on time to calls for more engagement. When an officer responds, he said, they're told to stay once the call is over and talk to residents to build a relationship.
Austin City Council Member Leslie Pool said extra time on a call is not what she expects out of community policing. She said officers need more time for conversations or for social interaction, like playing basketball with residents.
Auditors conducted two surveys, one with Austin police and another with the community. Officers said that understaffing and a high call volume has left them with less time to engage with residents. They also have to write reports, read policy updates, check email and complete other tasks during their shifts, the audit said.
The department plans to add 54 patrol officers, according to its staffing plan for fiscal 2019 to 2022, the audit said. But the coronavirus pandemic might affect the department's ability to add officers in the future, the audit says.
Gay said the department hopes to hire a data officer in the next month to six weeks to help with collecting and using data on community policing.
Codes were created in 2016 to track community policing activities, but officers have not consistently used the codes, the audit says.
The community survey results were mixed, but the audit report cited recent issues within the department for the varied opinions.
City officials are examining the department's training curriculum for discrimination and bias. An investigation into allegations that the department fosters a culture of racism is also in the works.
"While APD's community policing efforts since 2016 appear to have helped establish a foundation to support community policing goals, APD must address these issues and then continue to build on the foundation they have built to produce the change that they and the community want," the report says.
In April, 42-year-old Michael Ramos was fatally shot by a police officer who was responding to a Southeast Austin apartment complex after a 911 caller reported a person possibly involved in a drug deal had a gun. Austin Police Chief Brian Manley confirmed this month that Ramos did not have a firearm.
The shooting has sparked protests and calls for Manley and Mayor Steve Adler to be ousted.
Titus said community policing can lead to officers being less hostile, because they can feel like they know the community.
"It usually allows the officers to act and react in a more understanding and compassionate manner while still being aware of the different safety issues," he said.
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