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Save Austin Now is spearheading a citizen-led petition effort to increase police staffing levels, along with other changes. But 25 local organizations have formed a coalition in opposition. (Christa McWhirter)

Save Austin Now, the local advocacy group that successfully won a reinstatement of the homeless camping ban in the May election, continues to make headlines.


The new petition effort, which is focused on public safety, would mandate at least two police officers per 1,000 residents, along with other changes.

Shortly after co-founder and Travis County GOP Chair Matt Mackowiak announced that SAN had submitted more than 25,000 signed petitions in support of a ballot proposal that would mandate police staffing minimums, 25 local organizations—including labor unions, activist groups and the ACLU of Texas—announced their opposition.

Citizen-led petitions allow registered city voters to pass laws without City Council approval. If 20,000 eligible residents sign the petition and it is validated by the city clerk, council can either adopt the petition into law as written or put it up to voters during the next election, as was the case with reinstating a controversial ban on homeless camping in May.

With an estimated population of 995,484, the city of Austin would require at least 1,991 police officers to meet this proposed minimum staffing level. The Austin Police Department had 1,661 officers as of July 6, which means APD would be required to hire at least 300 new officers, plus more as the population continues to grow, amid budget constraints and a years-long staffing shortage.

SAN leadership cited Austin's growing population and rising violent crime rates as motivations for the petition effort. There have been 47 homicides in Austin so far this year, just one shy of the total number that occurred in all of 2020.

But opponents said the petition stands in the way of police reforms, which thousands of Austinites marched in support of last summer. It also equates the increase in the murder count to local police budget cuts when it is a trend seen nationwide, including in cities that have increased their police budgets.

"Austin has begun to make reforms to policing and police budgets, inspired by the protests against the murder of George Floyd," Austin Justice Coalition Executive Director Chas Moore said in a Monday press release. "This ballot item, if successful, will end all of that."

Coalition representatives said the petition would not only force an arbitrary increase in the police force and reverse the strides made by council to reform APD In recent years but also cut into the budgets of other city departments.

"Right now we are struggling to find funds to pay for a dozen more firefighters and a dozen more EMS staff," District 4 Council Member Greg Casar said in the same release. "If we had to hire 500 police officers right now, we would be getting pushed to lay off other employees, to cut library and pool hours, and to shut down essential programs."

The coalition pointed to SAN's Republican supporters as a concern. Although the nonprofit stresses its bipartisan orientation—cofounder Cleo Petricek is a Democratic activist—its petition efforts have mostly attracted endorsements from GOP officials, including U.S. Rep. Chip Roy and Gov. Greg Abbott. (None of the 10 Democratic council members expressed support for Prop B ahead of the May 1 election, when nearly 58% of voters approved it.)

"This Republican-led proposition for more police would continue negative interactions for the city's Black and Hispanic communities, which already face disproportionate stops, searches, arrests and uses of force," Travis County Democratic Party Chair Katie Naranjo said in the same release.

SAN expects to hear from the clerk in the next 10 to 12 days. The election is on Nov. 2.

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