Governor Abbott is looking at ways to stop the Austin City Council from defunding the Austin Police Department. Austin is the first city in Texas to approve such an action.
In August, Governor Abbott and other top Republican state leadership mulled over a proposal to stop cities from defunding police departments by freezing that city’s ability to raise property taxes. On Thursday the governor announced he is considering a legislative proposal that would place the Austin Police Department under the control of the State of Texas, if passed.
Texas’ governor tweeted Thursday that he was looking at a strategy that would stop city officials’ efforts to shift resources away from police departments and into other social services. Austin became the first Texas city to approve cutting its police budget last month as calls rise to “defund police” during a revived movement against police brutality and racial injustice.
“This proposal for the state to take over the Austin Police Department is one strategy I’m looking at,” Abbott tweeted in response to an article from Reform Austin. “We can’t let Austin’s defunding & disrespect for law enforcement to endanger the public & invite chaos like in Portland and Seattle.”
This proposal for the state to takeover the Austin Police Department is one strategy I'm looking at.
— Greg Abbott (@GregAbbott_TX) September 3, 2020
Former Texas House members and parliamentarians Terry Keel and Ron Wilson sent Governor Abbott potential legislation that can be looked at as a roadmap for Texas to address the Defund the Police movement. Keel, who is also a former Travis County sheriff, said Austin opened the door for the legislation and is potentially creating a public safety crisis.
Here is how the legislation would work – a city with a population over 1 million and less than two police officers per 1,000 residents, like Austin, will have its police force consolidated with the Texas Department of Public Safety, the state’s law enforcement branch. DPS would take over the local police department and create a new department. This only happens if the governor decided there were “insufficient municipal resources being appropriated for public safety needs.” With that, the director of DPS would be in charge of the new department. The Texas Public Safety Commission would decide its budget. That money would be taken from state sales revenue taxes that are sent to the city.
Keel and Wilson say they have been working with other former parliamentarians privately. They say this approach would “permanently and effectively fix the array of continual public safety problems created by Austin’s local government.” They point to the legislation as a necessary tool in light of Austin’s continuing, growing problems of homelessness and rise in crime. It’s a public safety issue as well as one that affects the quality of life for Austin residents.
According to the duo, the Texas Constitution and rules of the House and Senate allow for a bill addressing a problem in a specific locality if it is of a subject matter of statewide import and its classification scheme relates to the bill’s purpose. They claim that is exactly the type of situation Austin has handed state leaders. They have even written out the proposed legislation, which they say could serve as a warning to other cities considering following Austin’s actions.
“It is not realistic to expect that Austin’s council during our lifetime will significantly change its anti-police political leanings. The explosion of homelessness, quality of life crimes and spikes in robberies and homicides will continue and worsen for citizens of Austin and all Texans here in the capital city as long as Austin’s local politicians remain in charge of the police department,” they stated.
Austin Mayor Steve Adler’s response is no surprise to anyone familiar with how he governs the city. He has been feckless in timely responses to the growing problems in Austin, as both the homeless population and crime have risen, and supports defunding the police department. He falls in line with other liberal Democrat mayors in Portland and Seattle and other cities experiencing riots and destruction at the hands of angry BLM protesters and professional agitators. And, of course, he blames the bad Orange Man for his own ineffective leadership.
“Austin is the safest big city in Texas and one of the safest in the country. Public safety is our priority and we support our police. We’re also always looking for ways for everyone to be even more safe. Not surprising the President’s rhetoric is finding its way to Texas as we get closer to November,” said Austin Mayor Steve Adler in commenting on the proposal.
Governor Abbott is trying to head off going in the direction of Portland and Seattle in Austin. He doesn’t want the Defund the Police movement to spread further in Texas, though other cities are considering such action. Austin is the only city in Texas so far to cut police funding in this manner. This may or may not be a viable solution. The legislative solution is only under consideration at this point. Formal legislation will have to be written and put before the state legislature when it comes back into session if the governor decides to go with it.