New Austin, Texas police policies cause concern

The fallout from a recently rejected voting initiative in Austin, Texas has raised concerns among local citizens and business people in the state capital of Texas.

Proposal A, which was rejected from 68% to 32% in the November 2 election, would have increased the Austin police force to two officers per 1,000 people, doubled the number of annual trainings for officers, increased hiring minorities and placing more emphasis on community policing – requiring 35% of officers’ shifts to be devoted to “community engagement”. The price tag on the initiative would have added about $ 271.5 million to $ 598.9 million to the Austin Police Department’s existing budget of $ 442 million.

The proposal comes as the Austin Police Department has implemented changes to its operations in an effort to address staffing challenges. A shortage of officers triggered the reduction or suspension of 14 departments, the ODA said earlier this year.

The department also recently implemented a new way of responding to non-emergency calls, requiring residents to call 311 instead of 911 for crimes that are no longer in progress.

The modifications to the 911 were of particular concern to Austin convenience store owner Linh Tu, who spoke to Joe Donlon on “The Donlon Report.” Lu believes the changes in the Austin police force have deprived the local police of a sense of urgency, placing civilians in an untenable and dangerous position.

Lu cited an incident in which his store was shoplifted. He called 911, he said, to report the crime and express his concern that he was about to be attacked by the shoplifter. Because he had not been attacked, Lu said, he was told to call 311.

“I am very disturbed,” Lu told Donlon. “There is no solution at the moment. When city council makes 911 calls a priority only if you’re hurt or injured, all the rest is to call 311 and file a report, and it’s too late most of the time. Just like when I have a burglary, I call 911. They say, ‘Have they left? Are they finished? ‘ They don’t send detectives to investigate right away. They just want you to make a report and that’s it.

Police policy changes have given offenders the edge, Lu said.

“Right now, criminals know cops don’t respond in a minute or two. I was recently broken into and they were in the store for five minutes. Take their time, grab what they wanted. Usually they come in and grab everything, and go in and out in 40 seconds. They want to get away before the cops arrive. Now they don’t think the cops will ever come.

Lu expressed his exasperation at the current conditions in the city.

“Either Austin has to change or there’s no point in having a business if the criminals are the only ones profiting from everything,” he said.

Kelsey Thompson of KXAN, Kevin Clark, Daniel Marin and Mayra Monroy contributed to this report.

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