Wednesday, June 11, 2008

What does it mean when Austin police measure success by the number of arrests?

Yesterday’s story in the Statesman highlights the sad fact that Austin police continue to measure success by the number of arrests. A perverse incentive, like the proverbial ambulance-chasing lawyer who hopes that more people are severely injured each year, this measure of success encourages police to arrest more people every year. The only way they can succeed by this standard is if crime goes up, or if they just arrest and incarcerate more and more people who don’t need to be arrested.

Conveniently, it also feeds into their current labor contract negotiations and the false premise that Austin police need more money. Austin’s crime rate is on par with comparable cities. With our “high” number of 30 murders per year, we are not in the same league with other cities like Washington DC or Baltimore which suffer hundreds of murders each year. Even Fort Worth, which is less populated than Austin, had almost twice as many murders as Austin last year. It’s time that we question the methodology and the claims made by our police when they boast about making more arrests every year.

National long-term aggregate research shows that for nonviolent offenders, arresting them and locking them up increases their criminal behavior.

Austin police could spend more time solving serious crime right now, for free, by implementing the citation option but they refuse to do so. We want to know how many nonviolent individuals were arrested and incarcerated in Austin when they could have simply been cited and released under the new state law which has been in effect since September 1, 2007. Austin police refuse to implement the citation option thus wasting taxpayer money, taking thousands of police off the streets for hours at a time, and unnecessarily exposing nonviolent offenders to violent ones. The city is due to respond to our open records request about this on Friday so we will let you know.

Let’s take a closer look before Austin taxpayers give police a free pass again and get treated like a bottomless ATM machine. An increase in arrests is more an indication of failure than success. Austin police could reduce crime, save taxpayers money and reduce racial profiling right now by implementing the citation option. Click here to learn more and send an email to Chief Acevedo asking him to fully implement the citation option in Austin.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Austin Public Safety Task Force Considers the Citation Option

Yesterday evening, instead of appearing before the Austin Public Safety Task Force in person, the Chief of police sent a person from his staff who had little, if any, background with the policy.  The officer explained that the police are still trying to set a meeting with the district attorney from Williamson County and the district attorney from Hays County so they can agree on a process for the citation option.  When asked why APD would be discussing this with the district attorney, and not the county attorney who handles misdemeanors, the officer had no idea.  (Most district attorneys only handle felonies, but those who follow criminal justice at the Texas legislature know that the Williamson County District Attorney will do everything he can to stop the citation option from going into effect.)

The good news is that the Austin Public Safety Task Force obtained an agreement that the police will return for their next meeting with concrete data, specifically:
- how many people are arrested and jailed each year in Austin when they could be given a citation,
- how much these optional arrests and incarcerations are costing the city  (Council Member Mike Martinez made it clear that he wants to see all costs, including all of the officer time which is lost, costs of arrest, costs of magistrate court and municipal judge time, costs of incarceration, etc.), and
- the racial breakdown of all of these optional arrests and incarcerations that the Austin police choose to make.

The police made it clear that they do NOT need to obtain permission from Hays or Williamson county to move forward with the citation option.  They say they are simply attempting to work it out in good faith and by consensus.  We don't know how much longer the Austin police will be willing to wait on the Williamson County DA, but the state law allowing the citation option has already been in place for 8 months.  How many tax dollars have already been wasted and how many lives have already been impacted?

Please stay tuned ~ we will update you as things develop!

Monday, June 2, 2008

Chief Acevedo to Report on the Citation Option Today

Austin Police Chief Art Acevedo will provide an update to the Austin Public Safety Task Force today on the citation option.  Check out the meeting in person at City Hall today at 4pm, or watch for it later on Ch. 6 if you can't make it.  We will have a complete update here also.  Stay tuned ...