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Staffing shortages within the Austin Police Department continues to cause long wait times for customers calling for emergency help prompting the department to turn to artificial intelligence for help at call centers.
“I called 311 the other day and hung up, because I could no longer wait on hold,” KXAN reporter Britt Moreno tweeted Tuesday. “Apparently even 911 is short staffed. Do you need a job? There are 15 police dispatcher vacancies and 31, 911 operator vacancies!”
Staffing shortages since the Austin City Council stripped the police of 30% of its funding in 2020 forced police to no longer respond to non-emergency calls and has caused significant wait times for those calling both 911 and the non-emergency 311 line.
In the next 90 to 120 days, the Austin Police Department is hoping to install an artificial intelligence system that has the capability to ask the same questions human operators would in 16 different languages, according to KXAN.
“We were holding about 1,300 customer service requests in the queue,” said Lt. Ken Murphy, head of APD’s communication division, told KXAN adding that they have dropped from 8 emergency operators to one. Austin’s population is estimated at about 986,000.
Murphy says that human officers will still need to validate the reports but the AI should be able to help the current customer backlog.
Austin recorded an all-time record in homicides last year with 89 which shattered its previous record of 60. A bloody January in 2022, during which 11 people were murdered, has the city on track to break the record again this year.
Last month, independent researchers concluded that Austin needs more than 100 additional police officers to adequately protect the community.
Austin was one of many Democrat-controlled cities across the United States that slashed funding to their police departments in 2020. A national violent crime wave followed. While funding has since been restored to Austin’s police department in compliance with a state law passed in 2021, staffing has not. The police department saw a wave of departures once the cuts took effect, and those officers have not been replaced. Combined with the cancelation of police academy classes, APD remains short of staffing.