Police Consolidation Not Recommended

Audit committee advises against police merger

A public-safety-service audit presented last week to the City Council Audit and Finance Committee recommends against consolidating the city's auxiliary police services – Park Police, Airport Police, and city marshals – into Austin Police Department operations. Merging the three police services, currently housed under the city's Public Safety and Emergency Management Department, into APD would not only be costly, reads the audit, but also suggests "high likelihood" of a specialized "skill loss" within the three targeted-mission agencies and an overall "mission creep" toward the more generalized focus of APD operations.

Council requested the audit in August 2006, but it took nearly a year to complete the work, undertaken by the city auditor with help from consultants at MGT of America Inc., which specializes in public-safety operations; MGT was paid $315,000 for their work.

The audit contains a raft of recommendations to improve operations within PSEM, APD, and the Office of the Police Monitor – indeed, many of the audit recommendations have already been implemented or are in planning stages. Notably, council has already signaled it would move forward with plans to consolidate PSEM with APD by passing in December a resolution that directs city staff to work out the details of a merger during meet-and-confer employment negotiations with the police union, slated to begin today (April 3).

Among the audit highlights: a recommendation Park Police officers use resources for their "core responsibility" of patrolling lakes and parks and pull back from other activities "entirely unrelated" to their core mission – notably, patrolling at the Austin Resource Center for the Homeless (PSEM administration concurs with this suggestion); a recommendation to strengthen the police monitor's "oversight powers" by granting "limited subpoena power" to ensure that the office has access to all documents relevant to investigating formal complaints of officer misconduct (the OPM concurs); a recommendation that the APD consider eliminating its community policing district representative positions (APD does not agree with this); and a recommendation to reduce from nine to just five the so-called "area commands," which divide the city into a series of specifically defined patrol areas (APD does not agree with this, either).

The entire audit can be found online at www.ci.austin.tx.us/auditor/au06118.htm.

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

public safety audit, Austin Police Department, Public Safety and Emergency Management Department, Office of the Police Monitor

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