Thursday, July 24, 2008

Self-inflicted budget wounds: Police contract costs driving need for Austin library closures, new fee hikes

Criminal justice cost increases and rising fuel prices account for most of the increased expense in the proposed $620 million City of Austin budget, reports KEYE-TV:
Many of the budget increases include hiring 24 new police officers and buying 61 new cruisers. The city has also factored in the increased price of fuel, and is trying to tackle raising gas prices.
Austin's $25 million budget shortfall stems almost entirely from decisions four years ago to lavish vast raises on Austin police in their latest contract that made them the most highly paid officers in the nation. As I wrote in June:
Bottom line: Austin needed more officers over this period, but the council caved in to union demands to dramatically boost pay for those already on the force and fill gaps with overtime. That made it financially impossible to hire uniformed cops in the numbers the city should have and squeezed out other budget priorities.
The city will pay for the extra costs in this budget by closing library branches one day per week and raising fees for utilities and garbage pickup.

Myself and many others told the Austin City Council before they made these decisions in no uncertain terms that this would be the outcome - a bloated budget dominated by public safety costs that still doesn't put enough officers on the street. Now that those financial chickens have come home to roost, the city council is scurrying to identify someone, anyone else to blame when all they really need are mirrors - at least for the Mayor and others who were there at the time. Just pitiful.

16 comments:

Deb said...

24 officers: don't need them. As you suggest in the "With Safety Costs Rising" post, even if officers used discretion to cite in only half of the eligible cases, according to the keepaustinsafe.org report's most conservative estimate (which doesn't include cost of incarceration which is a large cost)...we'd come out ahead of the game with not hiring any new officers at all (the report equates the savings to a gain of 54 officers/27 is half).

We certainly don't need more cars if 37% of the fleet wasn't parked at the jailhouse unncessarily, and instead patrolling the City.

So it comes down to: do we want low level offenders to spend the night in jail or do we want libraries open?

Anonymous said...

"Acevedo backed off his initial enthusiasm for the idea because Austin juts into two other counties besides Travis - Williamson and Hays"

That seems like a grossly inadequate argument on the part of Acevedo.

Cops need to be constantly cognizant of Austin city limits and need to keep themselves out of and separate from neiboring county intrusions.

Deb said...

APD has jurisdiction in the whole City, not just the parts in Travis County, so there is a real concern about how County officials receive new policies enacted by the City.

It's just that it is only a political concern--not a logistical one.

The chief can set his policy accordingly, regardless of what overlapping policies are/aren't.

TxBluesMan said...

Anon,

Your post doesn't take into account the fact that the City of Austin is located in three counties, Travis, Hays, and Williamson. The APD officers are aware of their location - they have to file their cases in the appropriate county.

It is the same in the City of Dallas, which is located in Dallas, Denton, Collin, Kaufman, and Rockwall Counties.

Each county sets it's own policies - either the DA or the Courts in that county may or may not use the citation system for A/B misdemeanors, and the city then must decide how to handle the differences.

Austin has decided not to use the citation system at all, instead of using it only in Travis County.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Bluesy, that's not quite accurate. HB 2391 gives law enforcement agencies, not counties or judges, the authority to issue citations. The law does not give counties veto power.

Anonymous said...

Thanks, TexasBluesMan and all for setting me straight. I did not realize Austin was in three counties.

I guess those Austin areas in other counties are what is called "extra territorial jurisdiction" ETJ

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Anon, that's not actually the ETJ. The issue here is that municipal boundaries can cross county boundaries - they're separate governmental jurisdictions with overlapping geography.

The ETJ is a portion of land BEYOND the city limits that municipalities claim authority to (partially) regulate because of effects on water quality, road use, etc. Austin residents in Williamson County pay city taxes; ETJ residents do not.

Certainly it'd be a lot easier if the other counties were cooperative, but the law doesn't require their consent to use the new authority. And in any event there's no reason APD couldn't use the authority in Trais County - they already have to distinguish the boundaries for Class C tickets they write and this would be no different.

Douglas said...

"there is a real concern about how County officials receive new policies enacted by the City."

Honestly, why should the mayor, police chief or city council care what a county sheriff or commssioner thinks about a city policy? They all need to worry about their own roosts.

TxBluesMan said...

Grits,

I know that the law applies to cities, but District Attorneys don't have to accept the case, which amounts to the same thing as veto power.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

"District Attorneys don't have to accept the case, which amounts to the same thing as veto power"

Right up until some agency calls their DA's bluff, issues tickets anyway, and the local TV News starts criticizing the DA for not enforcing the law. HB 2391 grants authority for police to give citations. Nowhere does it give DAs a veto, although some have bullied agencies in their jurisdiction by essentially threatening intentional dereliction of their duties.

TxBluesMan said...

Grits,

I'm not arguing that the law doesn't give the DA's (well, County Attorneys unless there is a Criminal District Attorney) de jure veto power, just de facto veto power.

Most Police Chiefs don't want to get in a feud with the DA - typically they lose.

In addition, even with media pressure, a semi-literate DA can come up with any number of reasons why the use of citations for Class B's is a bad idea (I don't agree with that position, but they can argue that). Then it becomes a matter of how hard does the local press want to pressure the DA.

For what it's worth, the Dallas Morning News ran an editorial along the same lines bemoaning the fact that Dallas wasn't using the procedure (note this is after you reported that they would - you may have additional info, but it sounds like it was killed by the DA - let me know if I'm wrong, since I'm not sure on this).

I think it's a good idea, but if a DA doesn't want it to happen, more likely than not it won't.

Todd said...

"Right up until some agency calls their DA's bluff, issues tickets anyway, and the local TV News starts criticizing the DA for not enforcing the law."

Do you really think Williamson and Hays County residents will be moved by Austin media complaining their DAs are too tough on crime? Those counties are a different place than Travis and gives a rat's ass what the Austin liberals want.

As for not enforcing the laws, Travis County routinely dismisses cases that don't fit their agenda even though they clearly meet the legal requirements for an offense. No amount of complaining by police has changed this.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Todd, you're full of it. If it were true as you seem to think that people in Williamson and Hays County don't want crimes prosecuted, then you'd be right say no one would complain. Otherwise, it's not about what "liberals" want, it's about whether the county attorney is willing to enforce the law. I think voters in those counties want the law enforced and don't want prosecutors dismissing such cases out of hubris. I don't know why you think Hays and Williamson voters don't want the laws enforced, but I think you're wrong.

As for your comments about race, crime and the eastside, this policy doesn't effect murders, etc.. Unless you're really asserting that more blacks smoke pot in Austin than whites or commit other of petty offenses like graffiti, etc., it's ridiculous for you to cite murder stats here. There's absolutely no evidence blacks commit those offenses more often than whites - certainly not at 3-1 ratios. That's an enforcement bias at work.

Todd said...

"If it were true as you seem to think that people in Williamson and Hays County don't want crimes prosecuted, then you'd be right say no one would complain."

I don't think you understand me. The fact that Williamson and Hays County residents want laws enforced is exactly the reason the DAs won't do this new procedure. The DAs will not want to be seen as soft on crime. If one does start taking these cases, you can bet it will used against them at the next election.

This will be an effective tactic because voters in those counties (unlike Travis) WANT PEOPLE TO GO TO JAIL. I know that is a hard concept for people like you to understand but there it is.

As for the racial issue, stats show that minorities commit violent crimes at a higher percentage rate. Drug use is also much more common. Point me out a drug house or open air market on west side of town.

Is this directly because of race? Probably not. I'm figuring that it is more a result of poverty than anything else but minorities also suffer from higher poverty rates so there you go.

Since minorities are just that (in the minority) of course numbers will be higher for whites. However if you want to be intellectually honest with yourself. Look at percentages.

Deb said...

Todd: The offense is prosecuted the same in the case of a citation. If convicted, you do the time. The only difference is you don't spend the night in jail at the time of the offense. Just like a traffic ticket.

SHOW YOUR STATS! What ARE you talking about? National stats I have show blacks and whites use drugs at exactly the same rate (and Hispanics slightly less).

TxBluesMan said...

For what it's worth, I don't think that it has anything to do with prosecuting the cases (or not), or putting someone in jail (or not).

It has to do with the fact that the DA and the courts don't have a system to assign the cases to a court, like they do with Class C cases, and they don't want to set a system up.