Left scores lonely win in Austin: Voters reject proposition to hire more cops

Courtesy of the Texas Municipal Police Association

A special election was held in Austin on Tuesday. On the ballot was Proposition A, a referendum that would require the city to hire more police. Proposition A failed. Voters in Austin rejected it by a margin of 68.4% to 31.6%, with 91% of the votes counted on Tuesday night.

A group called Save Austin Now successfully got the referendum on the ballot in response to the Austin City Council’s cut to the police budget. The city council cut the police budget by about one-third, the largest cut of any major city in America. The city council embraced the defund the police movement that began during the Summer of Love. The crime rate in Austin has risen, especially homicides, and response times have lengthened. Proposition A was promoted by Save Austin Now and would have required the hiring of enough police to make a ratio of about 2 cops per 1,000 Austin residents. Governor Abbott included a ban on cities cutting police funding during the legislative session. House Bill 1900 penalizes cities that cut police funding, requiring Austin to restore the police budget to its prior level.

The question became whether or not Proposition A was necessary given that House Bill 1900 passed and was signed by Governor Abbott. If funding was restored, was it necessary to require the hiring of more cops? Save Austin Now, a conservative group, said yes. Those who opposed more cops on the streets argued that other public safety departments would have to be cut since Proposition A would require the hiring of hundreds of more cops. It would bring “dire financial fallout” for Austin that would mean deep cuts in the city budget. Fewer firefighters, medics, even librarians would be hired. Mayor Adler, a defund the police supporter, said it would have “forced Austin to adopt an antiquated police staffing model.”

How “magical” is Austin if the city isn’t safe for its residents? No Way on Prop A, an opposition group, called it a victory for Austinites. Campaign manager Laura Hernandez Holmes released a statement and said that the safest cities have more resources, not more police.

Austin’s homicide rate is at its highest point in two decades. Austin Police Department has recorded 75 homicides this year. Crime experts have voiced mixed reactions to the idea of hiring more cops to increase public safety. The Austin Police Association supported Prop A. It released a statement thanking Save Austin Now and voters who supported it. The statement called on the city council to hire 300 more officers.

So, what now? Save Austin Now’s co-founder Matt Mackowiak said the fight will continue to make Austin safer for its residents. The group had success earlier with a referendum in May to tackle the explosion of homeless camps in the city.

Save Austin Now co-founder Matt Mackowiak called the results a “disappointment” in a speech Tuesday night. But he said the organization moved the conversation around policing in a meaningful direction. He added that opponents who still said the city should hire more police officers and implement increased training will now have to keep their word.

“This council now is going to have to move in favor of public safety,” Mackowiak said. “Are they going to go as far as we would have liked, as Prop A would have taken us? No, they’re not, at least not in the short term.”

The defeat for Save Austin Now came months after the organization successfully backed a May referendum that restored the city’s ban on homeless encampments. In the days leading up to the vote, Save Austin Now flooded Austinites’ phones with text messages imploring them to pass the measure.

George Soros’ Open Policy Center donated $500,000 to No Way on Prop A, along with other wealthy anti-cop supporters during the lead-up to the vote. The city’s motto, Keep Austin Weird, now should include Keep Austin Unsafe.