The APD District Representatives for Southwest Austin are Officer Jeffrey Binder (left) and Officer Joshua Visi (right).
by Ann Fowler
An item Austin police say is “the keystone of our community policing program” was put on the city’s Service Reduction Plan when city departments were asked to show ways to reduce each budget by 2.5 percent.
The District Representative program is currently listed under “Potential Service Reductions” for the Austin Police Department (APD). Eliminating that program, as well as its Office of Community Liaison and the positions in Highway Enforcement, would result in a net savings of nearly $8.7 million.
Created in 1998, the District Representative (DR) program creates liaisons between Austin neighborhoods and APD regional commands. District Representatives attend neighborhood association meetings to answer questions and assist in solving non-emergency problems.
The DR program gives communities a go-to person on the police force to resolve concerns and, when needed, enhance patrol efforts.
Assistant Chief Brian Manley, chief of staff to Police Chief Art Acevedo, told the Gazette, “This was a budget reduction exercise.” Difficult decisions had to be made when more than 90 percent of the APD budget goes to salary, he explained.
“Our focus was on front-line patrols, so we had to look at officers in non-patrol assignments,” Chief Manley explained. “Eliminating the District Representative program is not something we want to do, but one of the first programs we would have to eliminate.”
He stressed that the current reduction list is just an exercise and does not diminish the value APD places on this successful program. “It is the keystone of our community policing efforts,” he said.
Austin Councilmember Ellen Troxclair represents Oak Hill in District 8. She assured the Gazette that the DR program is safe. She said, “I do not believe anyone is considering eliminating APD’s District Representatives. In fact, I think the Council and City Management would strongly oppose that idea.”
She said the exercise performed by the city departments were likely to address cutbacks that could be necessary with the adoption of a potential homestead exemption. She said, “The Council has made it very clear that we have no intention of cutting basic city services such as police resources.”
Troxclair considers the DR program an important community resource: “I think the District Representatives have been a great resource to our community and I think it has helped raise awareness about how to report crimes, how to start neighborhood programs, and how to reduce crime overall.”
Oak Hill residents were alarmed that the program would even be considered for elimination. Tom Thayer of South Windmill Run is concerned that APD responsiveness may diminish if the program is eliminated.
He added, “District Reps are handy as a point of contact that neighborhoods can get to know for easy communication with APD. The Rep also can get to know the district well and hopefully keep up with what is going on there.”
Laura Faulk of Beckett Estates also praised the program as a valuable asset to her neighborhood. She said, “They have come to neighborhood meetings to talk about area crime, safety tips, neighborhood watch programs, etc. We have also used them for advice with specific issues in the area.”
Windmill Run resident Carol Cespedes said community policing is a key element in crime prevention. “I think the APD representatives are actually stretched too thin. We need more, not less,” she said.
The APD District Representatives for Southwest Austin are Officer Jeffrey Binder (512-974-4415) and Officer Joshua Visi (512-974-4260).