Austin's cop shortage impeding gun theft investigations

(Nick Wagner/Austin American-Statesman via AP)

I’m not sure that the current problems can be laid solely at the feet of the Democrats who’ve managed to keep the Austin, Texas police department understaffed and underfunded, but according to at least one officer, the current staffing levels are indeed wreaking havoc on the department’s ability to react and respond to reports of stolen firearms. In fact, it’s so bad that the department is struggling to even allow the public to notify them of a stolen gun.

On average, Central Texas Gunworks owner Michael Cargill says he transfers 8,300 firearms to customers each year. He often purchases weapons from other federal firearms licensees.

“Everything comes through a truck. So whether it’s FedEx, UPS, USPS, you know, it’s going to come by truck” Cargill explained. His store has had a handful of shipments stolen in transit – most recently in early January.

“We have a procedure. Everything is on camera. You know, from the time that the boxes moved from the truck to inside the building.” Cargill added, “We opened up the gun cases and there were no guns.” This time, he says things were different – he struggled to make a report with the Austin Police Department.

“You get sent to 3-1-1. 3-1-1 takes a report and then they contact. I guess the police department and a police officer is supposed to call you to fill out the report,” Cargill said.

That’s right. While Austin’s police chief says that stolen firearms are fueling violence in the city, you’re supposed to report any stolen gun to the city’s non-emergency number. The only problem is after Cargill contacted the police department, he never heard back from anyone.

After several days without results, Cargill said he gave up on contacting the Austin Police Department. He contacted a police department in Kentucky where the firearms were shipped from.  ATF Assistant Special Agent in Charge Robert Topper says that is an appropriate action – as it is on the person sending, not receiving firearms to generate a report.

“Those guns would be entered into the NCIC, which is our national crime database. That allows law enforcement to know when they’ve recovered a stolen firearm.” Topper explained.

That’s helpful for firearms retailers to know, but it doesn’t address the underlying issue in Austin, which is that the police department simply isn’t able to quickly respond to these reports, because the city no longer considers them emergencies.

“With our staffing shortages, a lot of those types of calls have been rerouted to 3-1-1 and they have gotten somewhat behind on some of those calls.” he said.

Flannery explained that stolen firearms calls were previously routed through 9-1-1 and a patrol officer would be dispatched. That is no longer the case. In September, 9-1-1 stopped handling “non-emergency calls,” meaning calls where a crime is no longer in process. 3-1-1 now takes those calls routing them to the appropriate agency. Flannery said he has heard of people waiting for 3-1-1 callbacks on stolen weapons for “like a week.”

That seems like a problem to me, but I guess if Austinites (Austintonians?) are cool with treating all crimes that have reached their conclusion as “non-emergencies” then they can deal with the consequences; like the fact that police are struggling to respond to calls that are still considered emergencies too.

… some Austinites are finding it’s taking longer and longer to actually hear that voice. Case in point: an armed robbery at Liberty Pharmacy on Spicewood Springs Road in October.

“It was reported it took an hour for APD to respond to that call,” said [public safety commissioner John] Kiracofe. “Some people reported on social media that when they did call on the particular incident, they asked if the robbers were still on scene, then they kicked it over to 311.”

… Even with the non-emergency call center, the 911 call center is still overwhelmed, and Austin Police Lt. Ken Murphy, who heads up the emergency communications division, says the problem is staffing.

“My goal is anyone who calls 911 should have a response within 10 seconds, but you have to have people to make that happened,” said Murphy.

Murphy says he is down 46 out of 180 total operators, many leaving for better paying jobs. That has resulted in a staggering backlog.

“At 2 p.m. Monday, we were holding approximately 1,300 customer service requests in the queue for processing. So we’re about four of five days behind on responding to these requests,” said Murphy.

So, even some emergencies are being treated as non-emergencies thanks to the staffing shortage of police officers and 911 dispatchers. That sounds like a really good reason to get a gun, get some training, and start carrying for self-defense; though I would recommend keeping your gun with you whenever possible since investigating stolen guns apparently isn’t much of a priority for the department these days.