Source: Jose Nino
On August 13, 2020, the Austin City Council unanimously voted for a $4.2 billion budget that featured approximately $150 million in planned budget cuts to the Austin police.
However, only $20 million or so will be slashed from the department’s funding.
The Austin American-Statesman reported that the final approval of the budget came “after the council heard months of outcry from community members demanding police budget cuts in the wake of protests against police brutality.”
On August 12, over 200 people showed up to speak at the council meeting. Most were in favor of the cuts or wanted deeper cuts.
Before the City Council’s changes to the budget, the initial police budget proposal was about $434 million in funding.
Of the $150 million the council has re-allocated towards other areas, roughly $21.5 million will be cut from the department’s funding by scrapping three upcoming cadet classes; cutting overtime costs by roughly $3 million and withdrawing more than $3 million from commodities and contractuals, and $1 million from records management. In addition, more than $220,000 from license plate readers and vacancies to the department’s mounted patrol will be cut.
This money will be shifted towards a multitude of community programs and city departments, which includes Austin-Travis County EMS for Wuhan virus response, mental health response, violence prevention, a family violence shelter, and victim services.
In addition, funds were shifted towards parks and trails and abortion access, among other areas,
Council Member Greg Casar stated that the council knows that there is still much work to be done in moving the approximately $129 million in transitional funds away from the Austin police department.
“There’s so much more that we know our community is asking for if we want to truly reimagine public safety, and we know that we should be clear-eyed that there will be well-funded efforts to fearmonger about this vote and send us backward, to talk about the false notion that this council isn’t interested in safety, but that’s exactly what this council unanimously has been working toward: justice and safety for everyone,” Casar stated.
Mayor Steve Adler declared that the cuts are not meant to be used as punishment against the police
“We’re going to improve public safety and Austin together,” Adler stated. “We need, and I welcome, the knowledge, the expertise and the goodwill that our first responders are going to bring to this process. And one thing I know is that if we do this together, when we do this together, we’re going to reach a much better place.”
In voting to cut the police budget, Austin accompanies Seattle, Minneapolis, and Portland cities that have made efforts to gut the police.
Corby Jastrow, president of the Greater Austin Crime Commission, has called on the council to not cancel cadet classes. Jastrow noted that the group supports funding for community health paramedics, family violence, mental health response and violence prevention. However, he has expressed concerns about the cutbacks in police positions.
“The crime commission is reassured that the community will have input in the process to evaluate police operations and reforms in the months ahead,” he commented. “The budget rider amendment that makes clear police cadet classes may continue next year is encouraging, and we look forward to the timely completion of the work to improve training.”
“I think that we have a history of this police department,” Manley highlighted. “One of the things I’m proud of is the work that the men and women at the Austin Police Department have done in advancing change.”
On August 13, Governor Greg Abbott and Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton were in disagreement with the city’s decision to cut the police budget.
Abbott proclaimed that he would deploy state troopers to “stand in the gap to protect our capital city.” Paxton described the council’s action as an “unwarranted attack” on the Police Department’s budget that was inspired by “cancel culture.”
To its credit, Texas still has solid gun laws that allows its citizens to arm themselves and use them in self-defense against criminals.
Nevertheless, moves to defund police will create an environment of public disorder and allow for crime to increase at unprecedented rates. Murder rates have already increased significantly in cities like Austin since 2019, so there could be a generalized trend kicking off in the not too distant future.