Austin City Council's decision last month to cut the police budget by 5% continues to rankle.
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott signed a pledge on Thursday opposing police budget cuts and invited candidates in the upcoming election to join him in doing so.
"[Law enforcement officers] preserve calm amidst chaos," Abbot said at a press conference, citing the 19th anniversary of 9/11, which is tomorrow. "So it is particularly offensive that some cities are disrespecting and even defunding our law enforcement agencies in communities across the state."
Austin Police Association President Ken Casaday applauded the pledge effort. "I think it is brilliant, and it shows your weak leadership and your weak personalities if you do not sign this," he said.
In a statement issued on Thursday, Austin Mayor Steve Adler called the pledge effort "political theatre intended to scare and distract us from important public safety conversations" about the pandemic response and police reform. He also added that "Austin is the safest big city in Texas and among the few safest in the country."
Full statement here: https://t.co/bPBGpco3Qc https://t.co/U0LOCTKJra— Mayor Adler | 😷wear a mask. (@Mayor Adler | 😷wear a mask.)1599768711.0
Chris Harris, director of criminal justice programs at Texas Appleseed and a member of the city's public safety commission, tweeted on Thursday that police unions "are the last folks to trust about what's safe" given their opposition to reform.
Police unions now claiming a minor police budget cut (that hasn't happened yet) makes Austin unsafe saw nothing wro… https://t.co/dlhrBcA4m1— Chris Harris (@Chris Harris)1599763455.0
Abbott also announced a legislative proposal that would remove a city's annexation powers if it defunds its police department. "It should leave Austin with no choice to restore the cuts that they have already made to law enforcement," he said.
This is the second such legislative proposal that Abbott has supported. Earlier this month, he tweeted that he was considering a bill that would place the Austin Police Department under state control.
Austin City Council voted unanimously last month to immediately cut approximately $20 million—or about 5%—of the Austin Police Department budget, including eliminating funding from three planned police cadet classes. The APA decried the decision, writing in an Aug. 14 Facebook post that the upcoming—and now canceled—cadet class would have been the first majority-minority in APD's history.
The police academy has come under fire in recent years—prior to the more recent movement to defund police—for its "fear-based" and "paramilitary" approach to training, discriminatory recruiting practices and attrition rates.
Council members also put an additional $130 million into two transitional funds that will allow several of APD's traditional duties to continue while officials work out which responsibilities to move out from under police oversight.
"The recent deaths of Mr. George Floyd in Minneapolis at the hands of a police officer and our own officer-involved shooting death of Mr. Michael Rmaos have amplified the call for justice in our community in ways we cannot ignore," City Manager Spencer Cronk wrote in the proposed FY 2020-21 budget.
Even with the approved cuts, the city of Austin allocates nearly 40% of its general funds to police, more than double what it spends on its next largest expense.
Austin spends more of its general fund on police than anything else.(Austin Finance Online)
Last year, Austin spent more per resident on the police than any of the four largest cities in Texas, according to the Texas Tribune. Between 2008 and 2018, its violent crime rate fell 25%. This year through July, there were 29 homicides, compared with 19 during the same period last year.
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