Acevedo Unveils APD Reorganization Plan
Calls for beefing up traffic enforcement, rotating officers more frequently among shifts, and centralizing specialized units in effort to make department more flexible
Joined by the newly appointed assistant chiefs who make up his Fifth Floor top-cop team, Austin Police Chief Art Acevedo on Aug. 13 unveiled a department reorganization plan, which calls for beefing up traffic enforcement, rotating officers more frequently among shifts, and centralizing specialized units in an effort to make the department more flexible and ready to adapt to shifting crime trends. Notably, the reorganization will also spread the responsibility for overseeing the city's nine area commands (geographical neighborhood groupings that generally serve to define patrol operations) among three assistant chiefs -- a critical and hefty duty that to date has been under the purview of a single assistant chief. Under the new organizational plan, set to take effect Sept. 16, Austin Police Department's motorcycle unit will be centralized under the Highway Enforcement Division. The motors unit is "highly specialized," and dedicating them to traffic enforcement is part of Acevedo's goal of reducing traffic fatalities (there have been 40 roadway deaths this year) and reining in Austin motorists' (painfully) bad driving habits. Acevedo, who spent more than 20 years with the California Highway Patrol before being named APD's top cop this summer, said that since arriving in town, he's seen too many motorists making poor driving decisions -- running red lights, tailgating, road rage -- and it must stop, he said. Austin may be known for having a highly educated population, but you "wouldn't be able to tell," he said, "by our driving habits."
Acevedo's plan also centralizes the Police Department's career criminal, midlevel narcotics, gangs, and street response teams under the newly created Metro Tactical and Special Operations overseen by Cmdr. Duane McNeill. The idea here is to create more flexibility in the system to ensure fluid police response and effective resource allocation -- that is, to put cops where they're needed and when they're needed to address crime trends and hot spots. In truth, Acevedo said, the majority of crime is perpetuated by a relatively small number of bad actors -- Acevedo wants them to feel the heat and, if they choose to continue a life of crime, to get the hell outta Dodge. In keeping with the theme of fluid and responsive enforcement, Acevedo said he's exploring the feasibility of using the so-called Compstat program, designed and championed by L.A. Police Chief William Bratton during his tenure in New York. The program offers police a real-time database of crime information that helps police spot crime trends before they spread.
Also on deck is a plan to reassign officer working hours every quarter -- cycling officers through the department's three 10-hour shifts -- days, evenings, and nights -- every three months. The process of assignment and/or shift transferring, known as "leveling," is designed to keep officers connected to the community, keep skills honed, and to combat complacency -- goals jeopardized by the department's current routine of leveling assignments once a year. Confining officers to a single shift for a year (or more) poses a host of potential problems. For example, officers working the graveyard shift are "primarily dealing with the criminal element in the middle of the night," night after night, Acevedo said, creating the risk that officers will develop an "us versus them mentality" that is hostile and, ultimately, counterproductive. Conversely, officers working the day shift for too long can "forget what a criminal looks like," he said. Their "comfort zone [becomes a] little too strong."
Ultimately, Acevedo said the new organizational plan is a "work in progress," as fluid as the department it is meant to create. If portions of the plan don't work as intended, he said, they'll be retooled. "Obviously, [we're] not wedded to this," he said. "We'll review performance on a regular basis and make changes as we go along."