WATCH: Austin police to stop responding to 'non-emergency' calls after 'reimagining public safety' recommendations

Crimes considered to be non emergencies include theft, verbal disputes, prostitution, animal services, burglary of a residence, vehicle, or business, and COVID-19 violations.

Hannah Nightingale Washington DC

Starting Friday, October 1, police officers with the Austin, Texas Police Department will stop responding to non-emergency calls, urging the public to instead call 311 to report those incidents.

"These changes really fall in line with many of the recommendations that came from our reimagining public safety Task Force about patrol response overall. And many of them fall in line with this," Austin's Interim Police Chief Joseph Chacon said.

Those within Austin are being asked to call 311 when reporting crimes in which there is no immediate threat to life or property, when the crime is no longer in progress, and when the suspect is no longer at the scene of the crime, according to Fox News.

In addition to changes from the "reimagining public safety" plans, the "changes that we're talking about really are a result of recent review of APD's patrol COVID mitigation protocols, and really trying to make sure that we are reducing exposure risk, both for our public and for our officers," Chacon said.

Chacon said that these changes "are a result of recent staffing challenges that we have had. And as we are working through those, we are looking to see how we can deploy staff in the most appropriate manner and, and really to those calls that need them the most.

"Please understand, if somebody is in danger, we're still going to send a marked unit and a uniformed officer to go handle it," Chacon said. "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."

Crimes considered to be non-emergencies include theft, verbal disputes, prostitution, animal services, burglary of a residence, vehicle, or business, and COVID-19 violations, according to Fox 7.

"Again, if any on that list are still in progress, and there is an immediate threat to public safety, then a call to 911 is appropriate, and we will dispatch an officer," Chacon noted.

"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.

Chacon said that reports gathered by 311 will still be given to investigators, and detectives will follow up on those reports when they are able to do so.

A North Carolina man said last month that his daughter was in Austin for a bachelorette party with friends when the house they were renting was robbed,  according to KXAN-TV.

"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 said.

Short said that they had not heard back for weeks regarding the issue, only to finally received a call Wednesday afternoon saying an officer should contact them within 48 hours.

Chacon noted that non-emergency response could be reevaluated once the department is able to fill empty officer positions.

"We're going to be seeking input into that area from our community stakeholders, from City Council, from community members at large in the coming months to see how they want those police services delivered, and then we'll be able to determine how many officers we really need," said Chacon.

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