Austin has always been somewhat different from other Texas cities. Because it serves as the state capital or is home to the University of Texas, Austin has been more cosmopolitan than the average Hill Country town. Now the destination of choice for many escapees from coastal “blue” cities is taking on some of the more destructive policies of those places.
The city began a new policy last week of not having police respond to non-emergency calls. The new policy was implemented due to recommendations to reform the police department and an increasingly critical staffing shortage.
Last week, interim police chief Joseph Chacon told the press that the department will still dispatch uniformed officers in marked vehicles when there is an ongoing threat to anyone’s safety. However, when crimes have “already happened,” he said the department is working on “alternative measures.”
Chacon said residents should call the non-emergency police number “311” when there is no immediate threat to “life or property.”
City residents should no longer expect a police response to calls for theft, burglary, non-injury collisions, prostitution, suspicious persons or vehicles, and many other situations that typically result in a police response.
Chacon added that when an officer is not immediately needed to respond to an ongoing emergency, the department will likely send out a technician to take photos and gather evidence. Technicians will also be tasked with opening up an investigative file and providing victims with a case number as a way to facilitate “follow-up.”
The chief added that the new policy would “free up” officers to answer emergency calls for violent crimes and active criminal activity.
The new policy leaves it up to citizens to determine the urgency of a call to police and whether it should be placed to 911 or the non-emergency 311 number. It appears that there is no mechanism for trained professionals to make any actual assessment of the need for police interaction other than placing incoming calls into broad “emergency” or “non-emergency” categories.