Austin City Council voted unanimously to defund the Austin Police Department on Thursday. The vote was in favor of taking one-third of the police department’s funding away and moving that money to something called the Decouple and Reimagine Safety funds. How very Austin-sounding this move is. Sadly, this doesn’t come as a surprise.
When most people think of Texas, especially in political terms, they think of the country’s largest red state. That is mostly true as far as statewide offices go. But for local city and county elections, Texas is a purple-leaning state. The biggest cities and counties are now all run by Democrats. Harris County (Houston) was the latest to fall into Democrat control and that happened in 2018.
Austin, Texas is a very liberal university city. It is the home of the University of Texas – Austin as well as the state capitol. The city’s motto is “Keep Austin Wierd”, so that gives you an idea of the attitude in Austin. Anything goes. Too bad the motto isn’t “Keep Austin Safe”, right? After hearing public comments on Wednesday – more than 200 people signed up to speak – the city council voted on the city budget on Thursday. That vote cuts $150M from police funding out of the city’s $4.2 billion budget. About $20 million will be immediately removed from the department’s funding.
For months the anti-police left has been demanding this move in Austin. The original budget called for about $434 million in funding. The money taken from the police department will be “reinvested”. As you will see in the following quote, the money will go to a typical liberal wish list – including abortion access.
Of the $150 million the council has earmarked for reinvestment, about $21.5 will be immediately cut from the department’s funding by canceling three upcoming cadet classes; slashing overtime costs by nearly $3 million; and pulling more than $3 million from commodities and contractuals, $1 million from records management and more than $220,000 combined from license plate readers and vacancies to the department’s mounted patrol.
That money will be redirected instead to a wide variety of community programs and city departments, including Austin-Travis County EMS for COVID-19 response, mental health response, violence prevention, a family violence shelter and victim services.
Funds have also been shifted to parks and trails, abortion access, food access, substance abuse care and others.
About $128.8 million will be moved into two transitional funds. One fund will remove primarily civilian functions from the department. The second fund will divert dollars from the police to alternative forms of public safety over the next year.
The Decouple Fund includes about $80 million, separating forensics, communications, support services, strategic support, community partnerships and victim services out from under Austin police.
The Reimagine Safety Fund contains $49 million from overtime, mounted patrol, K-9, explorers, traffic enforcement, intelligence, training, recruiting, park police, lake patrol and nuisance abatement.
What could possibly go wrong with any of this? Austin has enough problems with an explosion in the homeless population, for example, that strain the city resources. These efforts in the city budget are for a more long-term effect. City Manager Spencer Cronk directed the city council to hold meetings to work out specifics and return with a community engagement plan that would provide a budget amendment process. Grassroots activists are not happy that the process isn’t going quickly enough for them. In particular, they don’t want the possibility that the police department would still have access to the money until the budget is formalized.
Grassroots Leadership and Communities of Color United, which both called on the council to make $220 million in cuts to the department — about 50% of the police budget — said the budget as approved did not “meet the moment.”
Both groups pushed the council to take the larger sum from police and put $91 million into the RISE Fund, the local COVID-19 relief fund for individuals, $4 million into the city’s Equity Office, $10 million for Austin Public Health and $115 million for low-income housing.
While the groups said the $21.5 million in initials cuts include some worthy items, they said the remaining transition funds represent an accounting change that moves money to accounts outside of the department that the department may still access to perform the same functions.
Austin’s feckless Democrat mayor said:
“I think this is the most forward-looking budget in memory,” Mayor Steve Adler said Thursday. “This is really the budget where we launch our future … as a fairer, more just, equitable, more universally acceptable city. This budget is full of opportunity and hope. That includes regional rapid transit, especially focuses on mobility deserts, those underground and to the airport, and reimagines public safety in so many new ways.”
Governor Abbott released a statement.
“Some cities are more focused on political agendas than public safety,” said Governor Abbott. “Austin’s decision puts the brave men and women of the Austin Police Department and their families at greater risk, and paves the way for lawlessness. Public safety is job one, and Austin has abandoned that duty. The legislature will take this issue up next session, but in the meantime, the Texas Department of Public Safety will stand in the gap to protect our capital city.”
The Austin Police Association released a statement, too. It slams the city council’s vote as well as its preference to fund abortions instead of the police department.
Thank you for supporting the Austin Police Department. The council's budget proposals continue to become more ridiculous and unsafe for Austinites. They are going to ignore the majority who do not want the police defunded. The community will need help @ the Capitol. @gacc97 https://t.co/mBhDZRmWxT
— Austin Police Association (@ATXPOA) August 13, 2020
Police Chief Brian Manley said the cuts would not change patrol levels.
One councilman called the budget cuts “a transformational change away from mass incarceration and toward real community safety.” It is hard to see how it is a good thing for public safety, though, with the slashes that are being made. The cuts include to the 911 center, traffic enforcement, 3 cadet classes, special investigations, and victim services. The city council and the social justice activists show that they hold criminals and lawbreakers over victims of crime. Victims are abused a second time if they can’t find help or have their complaints properly investigated.
Former presidential candidate Julian Castro tweeted, “Glad to see the Austin City Council leading the way to reimagine public safety. This budget will enhance community safety and improve quality of life, without over-relying on armed police officers.” When has he ever been right about public policy?
The city council is busy “reimagining” public safety while Austin goes the way of Seattle and other cities looking to punish law enforcement and put the public in jeopardy all in the name of social justice and racial equality. That is not a good transformation at all.