Opponent of defunding police warns Minneapolis to learn from Austin's mistakes

The co-founder of an Austin, Texas based group set up to oppose efforts to defund the police wrote a piece for the Star Tribune Monday warning Minneapolis residents to learn from his city’s mistakes. Minneapolis currently has a measure on the ballot this November which would replace the MPD with a “Department of Public Safety” run by the City Council instead of by the Mayor and the Police Chief. This two-minute report from KARE 11 outlines what would happen if the ballot measure passes, including removing the minimum staffing requirements that are now set by law.

Save Austin Now PAC co-founder Matt Mackowiak hopes Minneapolis residents will vote no. He calls the defunding efforts in Austin a “cautionary tale” for Minneapolis.

In August 2020, our mayor and City Council voted 11-0 to cut up to one-third of the police budget ($150 million out of a $450 million budget). They immediately cut $20 million and gave themselves the authority to move the rest of the $130 million to any program they wished. They’ve moved at least $65 million so far…

Two years ago our police department had around 1,800 officers active. Today we are under 1,600. One of the fastest growing major cities in the U.S., Austin’s population is just under 1 million.

Currently we have the same number of officers Austin had in 2008, when it was 45% as large a city as it is today…

The consequence of this staffing crisis — which has caused priority one 911 call response times to jump 20% since January — is a violent crime wave unlike anything Austin has ever seen.

Last year Austin set an all-time record with 48 homicides. We are currently at 52 homicides with four and a half months left in the year. Aggravated assault, robbery, battery, stabbings, rapes and arson are all up at least 20% year over year.

The PAC Mackowiak co-founded has already had some success. In May a proposition (prop B) they put on the ballot restored limits on outdoor camping by the homeless. That proposition was approved 57% to 43%.

That proposition was controversial in Austin, especially with homeless advocates, but one of the things the group did well was to give space on their web site to regular citizens who had stories about their encounters with the homeless. Here are a few out of over 100 comments:

  • “Daily I see people shooting up heroin, have found needles, and have had my coworkers(female service providers) attacked, one being sent to the hospital. It’s affecting our mental health, safety, and business; the city did NOTHING with the money they got to help house the homeless and crime has skyrocketed.”
  • “A young woman that works in the Frost building was out walking to get lunch. A homeless man, unprovoked… punched her in the face… injuring her, and breaking her glasses. We need to take back our streets. APD was so backed up, a simple assault is not a high enough priority to get a timely response. We have our City Council and Mayor to thank for the rapid deterioration of our beautiful city.”
  • “I’ve seen a lot lately… [We] had a high “camper” break into our shed in our backyard…and had to confront him at 3am. It was scary. [The] cops said that the homeless now cruise this neighborhood in the wee hours and there are multiple break-ins nightly.”
  • “We are prisoners in our own neighborhood (Ohlen/183). I’ve had to force [someone] off our porch… People shooting up in our yards. A nearby neighbor just shared her ring cam footage of a vagrant on her porch for over 2 hours. He finally threw up and wandered away. It’s intolerable.”

I wonder if a centralized place to post experiences like this might have an impact in Seattle or San Francisco. These are voices that don’t seem to be considered by these cities.

Save Austin Now PAC has already gathered signatures to put their own measure on the ballot this November. If it passes, it would set minimum police staffing levels and double the amount of annual training for police officers. Effectively it would undo the defunding efforts of the Austin City Council. Here’s hoping it will pass by a similar margin as the camping ban.