Colored drawing by Anthony Jensen

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

APD Under Marc Ott

In an effort to provide city council with resources needed to pursue a better managed city, a coalition of people are organizing under the banner: Manage ATX Better. I was asked to cull pertinent info re: APD.

Powerful testimony was given as to the myriad of mis-management issues at the public’s public hearing (city council wouldn’t grant one). Quotes and video clips here.
General question to consider: Councils prior 10-1 did not provide a written evaluation for the city manager; so how can our present council know if Ott’s met or not met previous expectations?

APD Prior to Ott:

1997 – 2006: Austin police expenses were more than two times higher than Texas -and comparable national- cities; it increased 84% in that timeframe.

2000 – 2010:
·       Public safety spending increased 45% - spending on all else in the general fund went up 2%: The decade’s national average increase for police spending was 28%.
·       Sworn personnel increased 37.4% during a period when Austin's population increased by 19.7%: During this time, crime went down proportionally to population rise and our officers are getting paid increasingly more per capita than in other cities. In 2013, Cmbr. Spelman, displayed a chart showing a fairly consistent number of dispatch calls from 1999 to 2013 – despite the total Austin population growing significantly since 1999; and no increase in violent crimes in that timeframe.
·       APD’s budget increases 50%
Jan. 2008: Marc Ott Becomes Austin’s City Manager

·       APD budget increases 60%: in an 8 year v. 10 year span (2008-2014 population growth: 19%)
·       33% increase of city budget, ½ of APD’s budget
·       47% increase of general fund; APD’s portion went from 37.5% (in 2007) to 43%: a 5.5% increase such that other GF services were cut. Fire portion of GF remains stagnant while EMS, woefully underfunded already, was increased only 1.5%
·       Staff increase of 27.5%...416 officers (from 1515 to 1931 sworn, outpacing population growth): APA wants 360 more in the next 4 budget cycles
·       42.8% of our general fund is dedicated to APD - the highest it’s ever been. (71% is the total public safety portion of GF)
·       11% of our city’s budget is dedicated to APD - disproportionately higher than most cities (San Antonio’s is 5.3%)
APD STAFFING METRICS and Consultant Reports:

The APA-touted staffing metric of "2 officers per 1000 residents" has been cited by experts as baseless. Ott's previous employer, Ft. Worth, passed an ordinance to codify use of the “Control Allocation Model” developed by Justex Systems (consultants they hired), which is akin to what our $315,000 consultants, MGT, suggested we do in June of 2008 – six months after Ott started here. These correctly take into account the additional factors besides population: crime challenges, categories of crime, population, density/sprawl/geography, economic factors, et al.

The report cited the "2 per 1000" metric of “being of little value” in that it does “not provide insight into how officers are used” and that it’s “not based on an objective assessment of policing needs in Austin.” It went on to say we were already at adequate staffing levels when compared to like-cities, that we were way-outspending on our police, confirmed that our excessive expense was "driven by the labor contract with officers,” and don't have enough detectives to solve crimes. We have been and are STILL under the national average for solving violent crimes; yet we have increased the number of detectives.

No city in Texas uses a simplistic metric formula for police staffing except Dallas. El Paso uses the MGT guidelines; San Antonio goes by FBI crime trends, and Houston looks to public satisfaction as the driver. And San Diego, one of the national cities comparable to Austin in many consultant reports, used to go by the “2 per 1000” metric but changed to an MGT-type model and crime has gone down.

The 2012 PERF (“Police Executive Research Forum”) report also debunked the "2 per 1000" metric and delved into the wasted resources on security alarm responses, the third most common response - 99% of which are false. Yet, although it’s fairly easily addressed, we have failed to implement any measures to fix it and therefore cannot justify adding more patrol officers unless we do.

Studies show spending more on police doesn’t make a city safer: Detroit and St. Louis top the chart on police expenditures, and both top the violent crime tables; Baton Rouge and Tulsa have about the same violent crime rate, but Baton Rouge spends $538 per resident on police and Tulsa spends $193. Austin, as of 2014, spends $427 per resident on police.

“The police represent just one aspect of public safety, and…other programs and services may actually make us all a lot safer at a much lower cost…” – Grits for Breakfast

In every budget, APD does a “GOAL” sheet listing their pledge to reduce specific crimes by 1-2% (like collisions and fatalities); decrease complaints and increase training hours. Very little gains are made in these small areas, but more importantly is there is no goal to increase crime rate clearance; which decreases crime.

Since he took office in Jan. 2008, instead of curbing the unsustainable growth of APD, Marc Ott increased the Austin Police Department’s budget by 60% - encompassing a much higher than average 11% of the total city budget; increased its percentage of the general fund by 5.5% and its staffing by 27.5% at time when violent crime is stagnant with population adjustment. We pay our officers one of the highest salary rates in the nation per capita plus an extremely healthy pension plan (not to mention plenty of overtime). Meanwhile, APD has not decreased racial profiling*, excessive use of force/excessive show of force, nor crime / nor increased its crime-clearance rate; nor has its relationship with the community measurably improved. Such high rewards for so little accountability.

"Generally, how can a department that cannot police itself adequately, be trusted to police other individuals?" – Chief Art Acevedo, 11/5/2009


Regarding APD’s huge portion of the budget, Cmbr. Spelman said, “that sort of decision is basically made by the city manager and staff and department heads, way in advance of when we get to pass the budget. And that decision is so big, involving so many millions of dollars, that we simply don't have the opportunity to move that stuff around.”

The Solution: Negotiate salaries within the city budget – not with APA, so that the biggest chunk of the general fund isn’t set in stone every year before it's even drafted.

KEYPOINT-GATE: A seven-month saga -- Ott's mishandling of the fallout from the APD shooting death of Nathaniel Sanders, II, displayed a serious lack of leadership. He mislead the public, withheld the full independent investigation from the public and scapegoated his city attorney; sparking a lawsuit, public backlash and a harshly-worded letter from federal Judge Sam Sparks. Not an isolated incident, he also sought to cover-up an internal ethics survey from council.
*watch Police Monitor Margo Frasier’s recent presentation on profiling (Item 5, 20:30 in).

UPDATE: (from an April 12, 2016 email I sent Mayor and Council):

Thank you Council, for starting to ask questions about staffing in response to the expert reports that say we are not understaffed.

It's clear by APD's reaction that they are scared you are paying attention to the actual facts.

It should be expected that APD does the exact opposite of what the experts say to do -- they are nothing if not predictable. :-(

Stealing detectives for patrol flies in the face of good policing. The additional detectives installed in Ott's tenure haven't managed to increase our under-national-average case clearance rate; and now it may get worse by taking them off crime-solving.

EVEN IF you were to use the false "2 per 1000" metric, we are already OVER that! Did Ott not notice??? 4/1/2016 population is 926,426 and our current sworn staff -before the NYPD additions and stealing from the detective pool- is at 1931. "2 per 1000" would mean we only need 1853!!!

Don't let the Chief and Marc Ott get away with this hail mary pass attempt to keep you on board with their mantra that more patrol officers are always better.  Call their bluff. 

Let's be SMART on crime.

Monday, March 28, 2016


In 2009, per the recommendation of the Citizen’s Review Panel, Austin City Manager Marc Ott ordered an independent investigation of the shooting death of Nathaniel Sanders, II. At the press conference to announce it, Ott exclaimed, “...the public deserved to know – this was the public’s report.”

Conducted by KeyPoint Government Solutions, upon its finalized submission to the City, Ott decided that it was no longer the public’s report, and sought to conceal that it had been submitted, but word got around and he was feeling the pressure. So a couple of weeks later, they released it to the public, but HEAVILY redacted…as in the actual conclusions themselves - and all related evidence backing those conclusions. They were specifically hiding whether or not they found the shooting justified. (They didn’t - yet Quintana wasn’t fired until he was arrested for a DWI while off-duty a year after the shooting, so it absolves the chief of any complicity). 

The report opened a whole bag of worms on disorder within APD and Internal Affairs (IA).  We found out later that there was a second IA report that was hidden from the public because it found more policy violations than the first; which was so tainted as to cause Acevedo to fire one of the investigators, but he still relied on its findings and discarded, the second, supposedly "good" report!

Ott, in one-on-one conversations, feigned a desire to release it, but cited “political pressures” preventing him from doing so. Yet, the council said Ott wouldn’t release it to them, so they couldn’t know what was in it to know what to tell him to hide. And we are to believe that Acevedo’s boss didn’t read the report in full? Ott either lied about this or it shows he is not doing his job overseeing the chief. (As a school board member, I’d fire my superintendent if she didn’t review a personnel matter that is all over the media; if she said, “it’s HR’s place, not mine!”).

At the end of the day, Ott is the manager and makes the call. He hired the firm; he decides what to do with the firm’s results (and he should definitely READ those results!). But instead, he first tried to blame council, then when that didn’t fly, made his city attorney take the fall – forcing his resignation while blaming him for the wrongful interpretation: that ALL of us were telling him was wrong. He failed to go hire an independent atty for a second opinion, which he should have if he thought he could “prove” every attorney in town weighing in on this was wrong, but the city attorney was right. Apparently the buck stops below him.

Texas Civil Rights Project filed a lawsuit... and the public continued to demand the full report. This went on for seven months, generating a landslide of negative media for the city, and it might have gone on much longer if it weren’t for an anonymous source who leaked the unredacted version to media who promptly posted it.  It was NOT OTT who did the right thing. “Not our finest hour” indeed, as Michael King of the Austin Chronicle lamented.

He based the ‘cause’ for the cover-up on a misread interpretation of a TX-AG opinion. His ill-informed actions, fraught with his disingenuous, intelligence-insulting disregard for both the community and council, is case-in-point of how he operates…with a lack of ethos and backbone.  

The saga continued with the uncovering of a “review of the review”: the handwritten notes Acevedo had an old friend with CHiPs conjure up to fit his story. Ott should have actually covered this one up as it was not just embarrassing, but baseless and unprofessional.

Speaking of “ethos,” Ott also hid an internal ethics survey from council for three years. It was only exposed because media dug it up.