If you live in Austin, Texas, and your house is broken into while you’re gone or someone smashes your car window to take your sound system, don’t bother calling the cops because they won’t show.
As of Friday, police will stop responding to non-emergencies. It’s “reimagining public safety,” according to the interim police chief, Joseph Chacon. The policy change was forced on police because of staffing shortages and recommendations from a task force set up to “reform” the police.
“Please understand, if somebody is in danger, we’re still going to send a marked unit and a uniformed officer to go handle it,” interim police chief Joseph Chacon explained Wednesday, according to KXAN-TV. “But for crimes that may have already happened and are now being reported, we are looking at alternative measures, and that’s what we’re working on now.”
People should call 311 “to report crimes that are no longer in progress, when the suspect or people involved are no longer on the scene and when there is no further immediate threat to life or property.”
In addition to theft and burglary, other “non-emergencies” include:
- Animal services
- Attempted theft of property
- Crashes between vehicles that don’t require a tow, there are no injuries, both drivers have proof of insurance and a driver’s license and neither driver is impaired
- Verbal disturbances
- Suspicious person or vehicle
“I feel like, in many areas, not just obviously in our sworn officers on the street, but with our property crime technicians in forensics and in our Austin 311 call center, we are experiencing staffing shortages, and, so, I think that I’m going to ask for a little bit of patience. Many times people do have to wait on hold when they’re calling 311 in order to make that report,” the interim chief said.
“If an officer is not necessarily needed, in other words, this is a crime that obviously has already been committed, and we can still get a property crime technician there to take photos, to be able to gather the evidence and to provide a case number and a way to follow up to a victim of a crime, then that may be the most appropriate way, actually, to handle it so that I can free my officers up to keep answering the emergency calls for service where we have a violent crime and people that are actively engaged in criminal activity,” he added.
Perhaps the experience of a North Carolina man whose daughter was in Austin for a bachelorette party with friends when the home they were renting was burglarized would be instructive.
“They proceeded to call the police and were referred to 311, who instructed them to start an online report. And no law enforcement official arrived at the location,” Darin Short explained.
After not hearing back for weeks, he said they received a call Wednesday afternoon saying an officer should contact them within 48 hours, according to the station.
It’s understandable that the police want to keep citizens from calling 911 unnecessarily, but shouldn’t the police be making the determination whether a call should be urgent or not? Wouldn’t you want the police to come to your home immediately if you returned home to find it had been burglarized? What if a “verbal disturbance” were to escalate?
Forcing ordinary civilians to determine the danger inherent in a situation is asking for trouble.