Austin, TX – At least 77 Austin police officers are expected to leave the force by the end of March as the effects of budget cuts and failed contract negotiations continue to negatively impact the agency’s morale.
The Austin Police Department (APD) has lost 50 officers so far this year, with another 27 retirements pending, FOX News reported.
The staffing crisis has been compounded by the Austin City Council’s decision to renege on the terms of a new four-year contract with the APD.
The department’s current agreement will expire at the end of the month, FOX News reported.
The city council previously agreed in principle to the new four-year contract, which APD officials said would provide the department with renewed stability and a means by which to attract and retain high-quality law enforcement officers, according to the news outlet.
The contract included a 14 percent pay bump and would have added 400 new officers to the APD by the end of 2025.
But that glimmer of hope was decimated on Feb. 15 when the council instead voted in favor of pursuing only a one-year contract with the APD, FOX News reported.
The decision, which was rejected by the police union, upended negotiations and was the final tipping point for a slew of longtime officers.
A staggering 40 officers filed retirement papers in just a single week, FOX News reported.
Austin Retired Officers Association President Dennis Farris said about 150 officers have recently contacted the retirement board to learn more about their options.
“It’s not only about the money,” Farris said. “It’s about the respect and the lack of respect they’re getting from this city council, less one council member.”
The department is also still feeling the ripple effects of the council’s decision to slash its budget by about 30 percent in August of 2020, FOX News reported.
The funding was ultimately restored the following year in order to comply with state law, but by that time, multiple police cadet classes had already been cut.
“On any given night, we are going out understaffed right now,” APD Chief Joseph Chacon told FOX News. “Because of that, I’ve had to be moving people from specialized units and from investigations back to patrol temporarily on a short-term basis to answer 911 calls, and then go back to the regular assignments.”
Travis County GOP Chairman Matt Mackowiak told the council during a meeting on Feb. 23 that they need to find a way to stop the mass exodus before the APD’s staffing situation becomes any more dire than it already is, FOX News reported.
Mackowiak noted he’s been advised that as many as half of the department’s command staff are preparing to leave the force.
“I recognize that the mistakes that we’re dealing with now were not made since January 1st,” he said. “But you do not take a bad situation and allow it to get worse. We need a four-year contract. We need stability.”
The number of APD officers expected to leave the department by the end of the month is nearly eight times the number of officers who retired during the first quarter of 2019, FOX News reported.
Just 10 officers left the department in the first quarter of 2019, compared to the 77 who have either left or are waiting for someone to sign off on their retirement packages so far this year.
Thirty-one officers retired in the first quarter of 2020, 44 retired in the first quarter of 2021, and 31 retired in the first quarter of 2022, FOX News reported.
Prior to 2020, the APD averaged about 50 retirements for an entire year.
That number skyrocketed to 97 retirements in 2020, FOX News reported.
Another 116 officers retired in 2021, followed by 97 more in 2022.
“There are a lot more that are planning on just resigning once they get their acceptance letters from other agencies,” APD Officer Justin Berry said on Monday, according to FOX News. “The City Council fails to understand the gravity of what this means for the general safety of the very community they are responsible for.”
Farris said criminals have become emboldened amid the decreased law enforcement presence in many areas of the city.
“When your political leaders in the city don’t support the police department, the criminals understand that. And they figure, well, if the city is not going to back them, we can do what we want,” he told FOX News.
“The police department really is in dire straits,” he reiterated. “There are shifts that are going out every day understaffed, sometimes just one officer and a sergeant, and sometimes just the sergeant showing up. So, there are huge sections of the city that are going unpoliced on a regular basis.”
The departure of so many experienced officers and command staff will also have lasting implications, Farris told FOX News, calling it a “void of seniority.”
“I fear we’re going to see a mass exodus of the senior people with longevity to where you’re going to have a department where maybe the average service time was in the high teens now and I think it’s going to drop into the low teens,” he said.
As more officers without high levels of experience step into leadership roles, problems are more likely to arise, Farris added.
In addition to the officer staffing crisis, the APD is also struggling to attract and retain dispatchers and 911 call-takers, KXAN reported.
The department had 63 vacancies for those positions in late February.