Gov. Greg Abbott vowed to "protect our capital city" with legislation and state law enforcement agencies after the Austin City Council on Thursday cut the police budget by $20 million and promised to move some duties and up to $130 million more to other departments next year.
In a strongly-worded statement issued late Thursday, Abbott lashed out at the council for pushing a political agenda with what he described as the "decision to defund" the police department.
"Some cities are more focused on political agendas than public safety," Abbott said. "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 Department is still funded. The city cut new and open positions, totaling $20 million, about 5 percent of its $400 million budget, for the next six months. The budget also directed city officials to propose up to $130 million more, with the goal of shifting some duties out of the department, such as mental health and emergency response.
The $20 million goes in part to emergency medical services and homeless and mental health programs.
A budget rider also promised the return of the cadet class next year and improved training for officers, both of which were lauded by the Greater Austin Crime Commission, a sharp critic of cutting police funding.
The commission criticized the decision to cut police personnel, praised the increased funding for other areas such as domestic violence, and said it would be involved in discussions on department reform.
"The Greater Austin Crime Commission supports the additional funding and public safety investments in the fiscal year 2021 city budget, including community health paramedics, family violence, mental health response and violence prevention," the commission said in a statement. "The Crime Commission is reassured that the community will have input in the process to evaluate police operations and reforms in the months ahead."
Abbott did not say what laws they might pass that would govern the actions of the council or enforcement of the law in the city.
Attorney General Ken Paxton also struck back at the decision, calling it "virtue-signaling" and a "political haymaker driven by the pressures of cancel culture."
It's not the first time state officials have clashed with Austin Mayor Steve Adler - or previous mayors, for that matter - over city policies. For the most part, and with occasional exceptions, legislators stay out of the official business of individual cities, preferring to let local lawmakers handle local business.
But Austin is unique in that lawmakers have year-round offices in the Capitol in addition to living here at least six months every two years for the session. And because state agencies are largely based here, lawmakers occasionally dabble in Austin issues - airport politics, homeless policies and the Capitol View Corridor, to name a few.
The budget was approved unanimously by council members, who vowed to use the new budget to enact reforms - which largely focus on moving non-police duties out of the department - after violent clashes between officers and anti-police brutality protesters earlier this summer.
"We did it!" Council Member Greg Casar posted on social media after the vote.
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Republic Square Park has turned into a Ford-themed fiesta for its Built to Connect pop-up experience, complete with test drives, off-roading and an inside look at the Tesla-rivaling electric vehicles that the motor vehicle company is planning to integrate over the next decade.
The outdoor driving event is free, open to the public and will stay in the park from now until Oct. 24, offering rides on Bronco Mountain, a 0-40 mph zip in the 2022 all-electric Ford F-150 Lightning and a chance to win an original Ford Bronco.
The event kicked off with a panel of speakers, including Austin Director of Transportation Rob Spillar, Ford General Manager Darren Palmer and engineering specialists discussing Ford's goals to make it so that 50% of the vehicles on the road are electric by 2030.
As an eco-conscious city, Spillar said that around 4,000 vehicles, or 22% of the Texas electric vehicle market, as well as over 15,000 plugins lie in Austin, meaning driving electric just got accessible.
"Austin, as you know, is a fast-growing modern city that is committed to protecting the long term health and viability of our communities and strategies that reduce greenhouse gases, mitigate the effects of climate change and improve the drone quality of life here in Central Texas for all of our residents," Spillar said.
And Ford's electric vehicles are putting up some steep competition for newly-Austin-based company Tesla. The new electric Mustang Mach-E and F-150 Lighting offer amenities that used to be exclusive to Musk's brand, such as the BlueCruise self-driving network. The cars also boast a 300-mile range on a single charge, assisted reverse technology and access to the biggest charging network outside of the home.
Plus, Ford's got affordability on its side. The F-150 Lightning starts at $39,974 and the Mustang Mach-E starts at $42,895, while the cheapest Tesla model, the Model 3, starts at $41,990 and averages 262 miles on a single charge.
Speaking of price, the numbers on the electric vehicles may look like a little more than you'd like to pay for your transport, but Palmer promises it will pay off. In addition to a $7,500 tax credit you can earn for your sustainability, you'll never have to buy a pricey tank of gas again.
"Personally, I have not found one customer ever, who would go back to gas so that says something," Palmer said. "I realized, at $51,000, that car outruns every childhood hero car I ever had."
Texas buyers: take note. The Ford Lightning can power your house for three to 10 days, just in case the statewide power grid fails. You can take it glamping with you, so you don't have to leave the comfort of modern life behind, and in a pinch, Palmer said he's even seen a wedding party powered by the truck.
Ford is investing $30 billion into the U.S. market to meet demand by 2025 and the new electric truck already has over 150,000 reservations.
"I think they're going to take off much faster than you expect—they're going to be extremely, extremely popular next year," Palmer said. "With the incentives that are available today, this is starting to become more mainstream and viable for more and more families. We couldn't have done that before, we didn't have the technology, or the technology at that price."
The event is ongoing through next weekend from 12-9 p.m. Monday-Friday and 9 a.m.- 8 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.
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The Austin Police Department is searching for a man who is believed to be behind a series of robberies that is "sexual in nature and is escalating."
Three robbery cases that took place in North Austin within a 30-day period are being investigated by police, who report the victims all had similar descriptions for suspects in the case. The suspect is described as a 20-25-year-old Spanish-speaking Hispanic man, approximately 5'3, thin build, recently shaved with black hair. Police say he is known to typically wear athletic clothing and used a knife on each of the victims.
Here's a breakdown of the cases:
1. At 7:56 a.m. on Sept. 22 at the 1600 block of Rutland Drive, a woman was walking alone and returning from her child's school when a suspect walking by inappropriately touched her. The suspect then grabbed her by the arm, threatened her with a knife and demanded "her property."
2. At 8:10 a.m. on Oct. 11 at 1700 block of Colony Creek Drive, a woman was walking to her child's school when a man approached her with a knife and then demanded her personal items. The suspect then said he would return the items in return for sex.
3. At 11:03 a.m. on Oct. 13 at the 9300 block of Northgate Boulevard, a woman was with her child in the laundry room of an apartment complex when a man walked in performing a sexual act. The suspect demanded personal items from the victim, threatening to hurt the victim and take her child.
Police cautioned the public to walk without earbuds, stay alert and report suspicious activity to the police.
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