What you need to know about the Austin City Council's wide-ranging proposed changes to police budget, policy
Spurred by more than a week of protests in Austin over the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police in May and Mike Ramos by Austin police in April, members of the Austin City Council Judicial Committee have proposed sweeping changes to the way local police are funded and how they operate.
Here is a breakdown of each of the proposals on the agenda for the City Council meeting on Thursday.
Item 50: Zero racial disparity
Eliminates tolerance for racial disparity in police actions and in city departments by establishing the following goals, using the city's Strategic Direction 2023, adopted in 2018, and other audits and measurements ordered by the city in recent years.
- Zero racial disparity in traffic stops.
- Zero racial disparity in arrests and citations that result from traffic stops.
- Zero use-of-force incidents.
- Zero deaths at the hands of APD officers.
- Establishes zero racial disparity goals in other city departments in terms of mortality rates and shorter life expectancy, economic mobility, homelessness and housing insecurity.
Item 93: Creation of new committee
Eliminates the current City Council Judiciary Committee—which oversees the appointments of municipal judges, among other duties—and turns it into the Public Safety Committee, which oversees a broader range of areas including police, fire and EMS.
Item 95: Use of force
Severely limits, restricts or bans various uses of force by police, including:
- Use of tear gas and impact munitions: Police will no longer use tear gas, rubber bullets, lead pellets/bean bags or similar munitions against protesters exercising their First Amendment rights.
- Use of force: Bans shooting at people who are fleeing. Requires officers to employ de-escalation tactics and other reasonable alternatives before using force.
- Chokeholds: Prohibits the use of chokeholds and strangleholds.
- Military-grade equipment: The use, stockpile and purchase of military-grade equipment should be reduced as much as possible.
- No-knock warrants: The use of these warrants are reduced and are limited to circumstances when there is a high risk and no other option.
- Facial recognition: Enhanced facial recognition surveillance would not be used as a general policing tactic.
- New cadets and training: The July cadet class is delayed until an overhaul of training can be completed.
Item 96: Changes to the police budget
Directs the city manager to propose a budget that includes several changes for APD, whose roughly $400 million budget composes about one-quarter of the city's General Fund budget. The resolution also includes introductory clauses stating that the council has no confidence in the current APD leadership to institute needed changes.
- Includes no additional sworn police staff positions.
- Eliminates open positions through attrition.
- Reallocates unused funds to alternative strategies such as training for trauma-informed responses, substance abuse, mental health, community policing, family violence prevention, strategies for homelessness and more.
- Reallocates some positions and roles of the APD to other city departments, including code enforcement, transportation, public health, fire, and parks and recreation.
- Pursue options for moving some responsibilities to other "partner entities," including the local council of governments, constables or nonprofits.
- No additional funding for militarized equipment such as tear gas, rubber bullets and bean bag rounds.
- A rewrite of the APD's code (known as the General Orders) with the input of stakeholders who would use national best practices aimed at reducing police violence.
- Funds audits of police disciplinary records as well as the costs related to discipline of officers confirmed to engage in misconduct.
- Expansion of programs aimed at reducing or eliminating arrests for low-level, non-violent crimes with substitutes to incarceration, such as rehab.
- Increase staffing for mental health first response, and create alternative response to 911 calls related to mental health issues
- Funds for and training in the use of Naloxone to deal with drug overdoses.
- Requires City Manager to report all changes to the APD's General Orders to the City Council.
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A $500 million mixed-use development spanning 1,400 acres is coming to Southeast Austin, near Tesla’s headquarters at Giga Texas.
Plans for the development by Houston-based real estate firm Hines include 2,500 houses along with multi-family and townhomes, and commercial land. Hines is partnering with Trez Capital, Sumitomo Forestry and Texas-based Caravel Ventures.
The development, which is known as Mirador, will be located off the 130 Toll and Highway 71, which the developers say provides easy access to the Circuit of the Americas Formula 1 racetrack and other Austin attractions like restaurants, parks and live music venues.
Hines also boasts amenities like a 60-acre lake, over 600 acres of greenbelt, community parks, trails and a swimming pool.
“As Austin continues to grow into the tech epicenter of Texas, coupled with a supply-constrained market, the demand for new housing is at its highest,” Dustin Davidson, managing director at Hines, said. “Mirador will be critical in providing more options for Austin’s growing population and we are excited to work alongside our partners given they each provide a unique and valued perspective in single-family development.”
The local housing market has been hot in recent years, with home sales accelerating earlier in the pandemic. In July 2021, the Austin metro area hit its pricing peak at $478,000. As Austonia previously reported, the area has been expected to see the Tesla effect, with the new workforce driving up demand for housing and other services.
The single-family houses are expected to be developed over the course of six years, in phases. Construction on the homes is expected to start this year and home sales will begin in 2023.
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Editor's note: This story summarizes Sports Illustrated's story detailing Michael Center's involvement in the Varsity Blues college admissions scandal, based on interviews with SI's Jon Wertheim. Additionally, Austonia received comments from Michael Center, included in this story.
Confined to his couch, former Longhorns tennis coach Michael Center praised his players via FaceTime after the program he built produced the Longhorns’ first national championship in 2019—a bittersweet moment as Center faced federal charges as part of the Varsity Blues college admissions scandal.
His name dragged through the mud, Center was fired, arrested by the FBI and sentenced to six months in a Central Texas federal prison after pleading guilty to two charges related to mail fraud. And over a year after his release, Center told Sports Illustrated he doubts he was the only one in burnt orange involved.
When the Varsity Blues scandal broke out to the public in 2019, the investigation was a perfect storm for nationwide attention: Hollywood glamour, blue blood conspiracy and faith in the tried-and-true American education system came to a head as 33 movie stars and other elites were found guilty of paying more than $25 million to pave their children’s way into eight colleges, including the University of Texas.
UT was one of eight schools caught in the college admissions scandal. (Laura Figi/Austonia)
The figure behind Varsity Blues, “college consultant” Rick Singer, would plead guilty to four felony counts for faking SAT scores and bribing coaches at prominent universities for his elite clients—but not before throwing Center under the bus.
Singer's client, private equity executive Chris Schaepe, was looking for a way to bend UT's tight admissions policies for his son, who was seeking a position oddly as a manager on UT’s basketball team. Through a middleman, Singer contacted Center, who eventually agreed.
Schaepe's son hadn't played tennis since his freshman year of high school. It was a detail that Center says passed through plenty of hands before he was admitted, including "academic support staff, the compliance office, the sports supervisor and, ultimately, the athletic director," SI's Jon Wertheim writes.
No one in the entire athletic department, including seven "risk management and compliant services department" employees, was named, implicated or punished. After an internal investigation, Center was the only one named in the Varsity Blues "subterfuge" in a September 2019 UT news release signed by the university president.
He told Austonia he was never contacted by the university during the investigation, and when the NCAA interviewed him for its investigation, he says it cleared him of any violations.
“I almost fell out of my chair,” Center said. “I literally couldn’t breathe. There’s no college coach in America—much less at a state school, much less a coach of a nonrevenue sport—who can admit an athlete without consulting other people in the athletic department. What they were asking people to believe, it’s just impossible.” SI said Center's assertion was backed by multiple UT coaches and administrators at other schools.But why would the Forty Acres be complicit?
Center said UT’s then newly named athletic director Steve Patterson made clear that Center suddenly was responsible for more than building a successful tennis program. He was to be a "fundraiser first and coach second" and he would need to find donors to fund a new tennis facility. Patterson admitted to SI that he wanted his coaches to find donors and said the department was "$15 million in the red" when he started in 2013, though he denies any knowledge of the false tennis recruitment.
Center said he knew he would be "considered a team player" if he let in the son of a Silicon Valley magnate. And sure enough, Schaepe immediately began pulling out his wallet, donating $100,000 to UT tennis and a six-figure check to the school's communication program.
"I never entered this as a way to profit. This was a fundraising mission where I made a terrible mistake at the end,"
Months after Schaepe's son was admitted, Center agreed to meet Singer at the Austin airport and found himself accepting a backpack filled with $60,000 in cash meant for him, personally. He said he immediately knew he had made a mistake. He told SI “I put the money in my basement and gave most of it away.”
“Why did I do it?” Center told Sports Illustrated. "I go to bed and wake up each day asking myself the same question. I had to convince myself that I somehow deserved the money."
Once in court, Center showed texts with UT's compliance official and mentioned Chris Plonsky, a department executive involved in "overseeing men’s tennis, compliance, academic support (which generates letters of intent) and the Longhorn Foundation," according to SI.
“I knew I had to answer for my guilt,” Center said. “But I was like, 'Man, schools are going to get hammered.'"'
INMATE 77806-112 but out on Sunday: Actor Felicity Huffman in prison uniform outside low-security Federal Correctional Institution in Dublin to visit actor husband William H. Macy & their daughter. Huffman admitted to paying $15K to have fixer boost daughter’s SAT score. 📸: @TMZ pic.twitter.com/9jALmqnA0U
— Henry K. Lee (@henrykleeKTVU) October 21, 2019
But Center was the only Longhorn to go down for the crimes. “I was no rogue actor,” Center said. “And this wasn’t my word against their word. There were signatures that went along with it. That’s the system... There wasn’t one point in the process where I thought people wanted to learn the whole truth.”
Back at home in Austin, Center watched as actress Felicity Huffman served just eleven days for her part in the scandal. Some served up to five months; others simply paid a fine, and others, like Singer, await sentencing.
And because the prosecution chose to blame individual coaches, framing schools as victims in the case, universities like UT have received less than a slap on the wrist for their possible involvement.
“I was always taught that actions have consequences,” Center said. “What I’ve come to realize is that, yes, for some people actions absolutely do have consequences. Serious, heavy ones. For others, actions can have no consequences at all.”
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