Decision time: Austin defunded police, Proposition A goes up for a vote tomorrow by Austinites

Courtesy of the Texas Municipal Police Association

A special election is set for Tuesday in Austin. On the ballot is Save Austin Now’s referendum, Proposition A, which will require the Austin City Council to hire more police. The Austin City Council voted to cut about one-third of its police budget. It was the largest cut of any major city in America. Crime is up and Austinites are going to the voting booth to make a decision – does the city address the quality of life problem facing its city or do they not?

The Defund the Police movement found support among Austin’s socialists and anarchists. Regular law-abiding residents? Not so much. The Austin City Council cut $150 million from the police department and redirected the money to public safety programs and city departments such as Austin Public Health. The outcry about this was predictable – Republicans came down on the side of law enforcement while Democrats supported a woke utopia that doesn’t include traditional law enforcement. Governor Abbott included the subject on the legislative agenda. House Bill 1900 penalizes cities that cut police funding. It requires Austin to restore the police budget to its prior level.

So, is there a need for Proposition A, if funding is being restored? Yes. According to Save Austin Now, it is too little, too late. Crime is up, quality of life in Austin is down and the city needs more police.

Cleo Petricek, co-founder of Save Austin Now, the group behind the proposition, argues the city has become less safe and the City Council is largely to blame.

“The council did restore the budget, but they never allocated or put back the 150 positions that we’ve lost and it’s been a trickle-down effect, demoralizing the police,” she said.

Prop A would require the city to maintain a minimum of two officers per every 1,000 Austinites. In addition to staffing, the measure would add 40 hours of training each year and increase compensation for officers with good conduct and bilingual skills.

Prop A has the support of three former Austin mayors. Lee Leffingwell, one of the former mayors, said at a press conference with Save Austin Now in October, “there is nothing wrong with having too many police officers, but there is a lot wrong with having too few.” Last week, Governor Abbott tweeted his support for it.

Crime is up since the budget cuts. AH Datalytics, a data analysis firm, shows a nearly 71% increase in homicides over the past year. It’s true that homicides are up nationwide since 2020, but Austin’s increase in homicide is one of the largest that AH Datalytics has tracked. At the time of the budget cuts, other changes to the Austin Police Department were made. Cadet classes were canceled and specialized units were cut. Attrition rose rapidly. All of the cuts and staffing shortages led to a 30% increase in 911 response times. APD asked the public to start calling 311 instead of 911 for emergencies and some crimes. It cited the staffing shortages and 911’s lack of manpower to handle calls.

Last August, the city council approved a substantial increase in police funding, a response to the new state law, and to the rise in crime. That is when Save Austin Now began its campaign for Prop A to be voted on by residents. The city needs more cops. “People here locally do not want to fund defund-the-police efforts. They do not want to defund the police,” Save Austin Now co-founder Matt Mackowiak, who is also a long-time Republican activist, told Fox News.

Democrats are opposed to Prop A. They are still stuck in the Summer of Love mentality, the Defund the Police movement. George Soros teamed up with them and provided financial support against hiring more police in Austin.

The Travis County Democratic Party and dozens of progressive organizations have formed No Way On Prop A, a coalition that argues that shifting tens of millions of dollars into police staffing and hiring would undermine other city priorities. Their signs, which dot left-leaning neighborhoods across Austin, implore voters to “protect Austin parks & libraries” by voting against the measure.

“What they are trying to do is create an unfunded mandate that … would then defund our schools, defund our libraries, defund our parks and EMS and fire,” Travis County Democratic Party chair Katie Narjanjo told Fox News.

There’s also the question of whether funding alone could solve the police staffing problems.

“APD has a hiring problem. They don’t have a funding problem,” Naranjo said. “And so I do support them being fully staffed. At the same time, they don’t need the additional officers or the additional funds if they can’t even staff the positions they have now.”

Will voters turn out to vote tomorrow? That’s the question. Prop A is a hot topic. It’s a special election, though, without city council races or bond issues on the ballot in Austin. Outgoing Whole Foods CEO John Mackey has contributed to the passage of Prop A, along with other members of the business community. Whole Foods is headquartered in Austin. We’ll have to wait and see once the votes are tallied which side had the stronger get-out-the-vote effort.