In June, the Austin, Texas city council voted unanimously to partially defund the Department. They didn’t reach an agreement on the details of the reduction at that time, although some members asked for a quarter of the annual budget to be cut for the next year. Now, the one quarter decrease talked about has turned into about a one third actual budget decrease.
Thursday, August the 13th, the city council unanimously approved a $150 million cut police budget – just over one third of its current budget. Communities of Color United, an Austin activist group, wanted a 50% reduction in the PD’s budget. On the opposite side of the defunding spectrum, the Governor of Texas, Greg Abbott, condemned the move as a political move that would risk officer, and public safety.
Austin Mayor Steve Adler said of the defunding vote “I want to be clear that this budget is not punitive, it is not intended to punish police. We’re going to improve public safety in Austin together,” “We need and I welcome the knowledge, the expertise and the good will that our first responders are going to bring to this process.”
Austin is now in lockstep with other cities who have decided that defunding the police that protect them, will right social and racial injustices. Additionally, there is a call from some council members, for Police Chief Brian Manley to resign. The resignation move is in response to the perception of some that the department was too aggressive in their response to recent downtown protests; protests that resulted in businesses being damaged and looted, cars being set on fire, and one person killed.
Travis County voters, where Austin is the county seat, recently voted in a run-off election to move away from the incumbent District Attorney who was seen as being too aggressive against criminal offenders. Voters instead opted for a newcomer who ran on a platform to halt arrests, except in cases of ongoing risks to public safety, and to implement the immediate release of offenders who are not considered a threat to public safety.
In response to the vote, the Austin Police Association tweeted that the proposal is “ridiculous and unsafe” and ignores “the majority who do not want the police defunded.” APU President Ken Casaday had gone on record before the vote that his officers should stop actively enforcing drug and traffic laws, citing the City didn’t want them to be proactive. He went on to state “What I’m telling my guys is, ‘Answer your calls and that is it, they don’t want an active police department. They don’t want us enforcing traffic laws. They don’t want us arresting people that don’t want us or messing with homeless folks. They’re very clear and we’re going to take their lead. The productivity in the city’s going to die,”
Nationwide defund the police initiatives have typically resulted in cities that take that position to have an uptick in shootings and murders. Austin only had 12 murders in 2019, an amazing low number for a city of about 980,000 people. As of this date, they only report 3 murders, and one shooting death that resulted from an armed confrontation during a protest, which is still being investigated. Despite the low numbers, the council’s cut of 34% of the police budget will result in fewer officers available to answer calls, and will almost certainly lead to an increase in their crime rate.
New York City, and Los Angeles, led the way for Austin; New York City Council recently approved a $1 billion cut for the NYPD, and the Los Angeles City Council recently approved a $150 million budget cut to the LAPD. Seattle also made large PD budget cuts to the tune of nearly $4 million this week, and reportedly are looking at staff reductions of possibly 100 police officers.