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Broad coalition kicks off campaign against proposition that would add more police

No Way on Prop A outreach director David Chincanchan addresses the crowd and press at Barton Springs. (Abe Asher/Austonia)

A coalition of more than 80 local organizations launched a campaign Thursday to defeat the Save Austin Now-backed Proposition A, which calls for adding hundreds of city police officers and other measures to the Austin Police Department.

At a gathering at the entrance to Barton Springs, speakers included two members of City Council, Vanessa Fuentes and Alison Alter, and Carol Guthrie, business manager of the American Federation of State, County, Municipal Employees, Local 1624, a union representing the city of Austin and Travis County employees.

Proposition A, put on the ballot after gaining petition signatures, seeks to:

  • Require minimum staffing of two officers per 1,000 residents
  • Require a minimum standard of 35% community response time
  • Add 40 hours of training
  • Require city council members, Mayor Steve Adler and other city staff to enroll in the Citizens Police Academy
  • Facilitate minority officer hiring through foreign language proficiency metrics

The proposition comes just more than a year after Austin City Council voted to cut its police budget by a third in the wake of protests against police brutality after the murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis police and killing of Michael Ramos in Austin.

"Prop A is a total reversal of the shift that Austin went through during and after the protests of the summer of 2020," said Chas Moore, founder of the Austin Justice Coalition. "We need every Austinite who posted a black square last summer, every Austinite who marched with us down Congress Avenue, every resident who called into council… to vote no way on Prop A."

Members of the coalition to defeat Prop A raise their fists. (Abe Asher/Austonia)Members of the coalition to defeat Prop A raise their fists. (Abe Asher/Austonia)

They are facing a strong political organization. Save Austin Now launched the proposition following their successful spring campaign to criminalize houseless camping in the city, which overwhelmingly. This proposition would install minimum police staffing levels for APD and add training requirements for officers among other initiatives.

"Our city can afford the same number of police officers that the city authorized just two years ago. City Hall may not support law enforcement, but city residents do," Save Austin Now co-founders Matt Mackowiak and Cleo Petricek said in a statement.

If passed, the city's budget office has estimated that it could cost as much as $120 million each year for the next five years.

Barring a tax increase, that money might come out of other areas of the city's budget, mentioned by attendees. The Barton Springs setting was no coincidence. Some held signs that read "PROTECT AUSTIN PARKS & LIBRARIES!"

"If Prop A passes, all of these services will be on the chopping block," City Council Member Vanessa Fuentes, who represents southeast Austin, said. "We're talking about neighborhood public libraries, neighborhood swimming pools, mental health services, and many other services that would no longer be accessible."

Anti-Prop A signs were distributed at the event. (Abe Asher/Austonia)Anti-Prop A signs were distributed at the event. (Abe Asher/Austonia)

Democrats in the area are overwhelmingly opposed to the plan. Katie Naranjo, chair of the Travis County Democratic Party, painted Save Austin Now as deceptive in a message similar to one propagated by Adler last month.

"They call themselves by another name," Naranjo said of Save Austin Now. "They're a wolf in sheep's clothing. If you signed the Republican Party's petition and you're a Democrat, you're not a bad person. You were lied to."

Save Austin Now has bipartisan leadership, though members of its board are affiliated with the Travis County Republican Party and Austin Police Association.

Attendees listen to AFSCME Local 1624's Carol Guthrie address the event. (Abe Asher/Austonia)Attendees listen to AFSCME Local 1624's Carol Guthrie address the event. (Abe Asher/Austonia)

Prop A backers argue that increased crime in Austin since the outbreak of the pandemic means that the city needs to employ more police officers. Austin has seen a spike in murders in 2021 in line with a national increase, even as the rate of violent crime nationally has remained steady.

"This is a straight attack on Black, Brown and Indigenous folks that have been saying for years that we need to change the way we do things," Moore said. "The way we do policing now does not make us feel safe. We don't need more cops, we need more resources."

Early voting begins on Oct. 19.


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