Thursday, October 2, 2008

Misplaced Priorities = Lives Lost

Does our public safety budget reflect Austin's values?

The Austin City Council has approved the 2008/2009 budget that Chief Acevedo requested – including millions of new tax dollars for 24 new patrol officers and 61 police cars. As council member McCracken pointed out, 89% of our new spending this year is for public safety.

As our readers know, this money could fulfill other needs if APD stopped choosing to arrest people when they are legally authorized to give them a citation. Over 15,000 people are arrested in Austin every year for citeable offenses – that’s 37% of all APD arrests.

In the meantime, there seems to be widespread agreement that our EMS and fire department are perilously understaffed. EMS is not meeting its 4-minute response time goal and predicts the situation will get worse with an increase in calls next year. That $2.16 million 24-officer price tag could have provided much-needed paramedics. The American Heart Association says
that survival rate is reduced by 7-10% for every minute that lapses before a responder reaches a cardiac arrest patient. Those funds could have secured new fire department hires, making a dent in the "4 firefighters per engine" goal - the Public Safety Task Force endorsed a resolution last year to encourage the the city to meet that goal this cycle and we're nowhere near it. If a downtown high rise goes up in flames, we'll likely see death or serious injuries because the city says that we need more than that "4 per engine" goal on a high rise call.

This year Austin was placed on the list of US cities most likely to be at risk of a terrorist attack. If such risk were actually likely, why would we shirk EMS and Fire for a few more beat cops?

Similarly, violent crime is rising in Austin and APD isn't even solving half of them. Yet in the new budget APD set aside NO new money for investigation of crime, violent or otherwise … just more patrol officers to make more arrests.

Chief, we know that increasing arrest numbers every year gets APD more money but is our top priority safety or funding? Please implement the citation option to the fullest extent of the law (see our suggested language) so we can invest more tax dollars in real safety issues.

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