Austin, Texas, funded its police department. Now voters will decide if the city needs more officers
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AUSTIN, Texas – Amid nationwide protests to reform police last summer, the Austin, Texas city council decided to cut its police budget by about a third – the largest of all major cities of America.
City Councilor Greg Cesar, a progressive who led the campaign to cut funding, said the vote provided a moment to “celebrate what the movement has achieved for security, racial justice and democracy.”
But since the budget cut, Austin has become a lot less secure. According to statistics compiled by data analytics firm AH Datalytics, the city has seen an almost 71% increase in homicides in the past year. While homicides have increased nationwide since 2020, Austin’s rise is one of the largest the company has tracked.
The funding cuts have resulted in a series of changes in the Austin Police Department. Cadet courses have been canceled, making it more difficult to recruit more officers into the force. Some specialized units have been downsized. Attrition has skyrocketed. In May 2021, shortages of police personnel led to a 30% increase in response times to 911.
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“Recently, the Austin Police Department asked the public here to start calling 311 instead of 911 for a multitude of emergencies and certain crimes, citing, in part, the understaffing they have. just don’t have the workforce, ”Lars Trautman, national director of Right on Crime, told Fox News.
In August, the council – under pressure from an increase in violent crime and a new state law that penalizes cities that fund police – reversed the course of its cuts, approving a substantial increase in funding to the police.
But Save Austin Now activists believe it’s too little, too late. They worked successfully to put a referendum, Proposition A, on the ballot, with a special election slated for Tuesday. The measure would require the city to maintain two police officers per 1,000 population (Austin is currently around 1.6), promote additional training, and offer incentives to recruit police officers who speak additional languages.
“People here locally don’t want to fund police fundraising efforts. They don’t want to fund police,” Save Austin Now co-founder Matt Mackowiak, who is also a longtime Republican activist, told Fox News. .
It would be easy to think that Save Austin Now is turning to windmills, given that the city is known for its progressive values. But despite opposition from most local politicians and progressive activists, voters in the spring backed a ban on homeless settlements – another Save Austin Now effort.
The battle lines around proposition A are drawn in the same way.
The Travis County Democratic Party and dozens of progressive organizations have formed No Way On Prop A, a coalition that argues that shifting tens of millions of dollars into staff and hiring police would undermine other priorities of the city. Their signs, which dot left-wing neighborhoods in Austin, implore voters to “protect Austin’s parks and libraries” by voting against the measure.
“What they’re trying to do is create an unfunded mandate that … would then fund our schools, libraries, parks and EMS and lay people off,” the Travis County Democratic Party chairperson told Fox News. , Katie Narjanjo.
There is also the question of whether funding alone could solve the staffing problems of the police.
“APD has a recruiting problem. They don’t have a funding problem,” Naranjo said. “And so I argue that they are fully staffed. At the same time, they don’t need additional officers or additional funds if they can’t even fill the positions they have now.”
Recently, the Spokane County Sheriff’s Office installed a billboard advertising a $ 15,000 signing bonus to entice police officers from Austin. Indeed, eastern Washington would likely provide a more officer-friendly climate than Austin, which saw major riots targeting officers in 2020. It is not clear that giving the department a larger budget would solve the problem. he alone issues personnel issues if Austin’s political climate is seen as hostile to potential. police recruits.
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In early October, the Austin Firefighters Association spoke out against Proposal A. AFA President Bob Nicks is not an anti-police ideologue. He sympathizes with the police and told Fox News how his own son, who is also a firefighter, was attacked with firecrackers during the police riots.
But he fears that the referendum will harm his department.
“The problem is, the law is poorly drafted and will literally gut out other public safety entities,” Nicks said.
Donald Baker, the police association’s secretary, disagreed, arguing that there was more than enough money in the budget to fund Proposal A.
“Will city council have to take a look at some of their favorite projects and some of their other discretionary spending and decide they want to put that money back into law enforcement? Yes, they will.” said Boulanger.
Virtually every Austin resident Fox News spoke to said violent crime was a problem, but they disagreed on whether boosting ODA would make things better.
Tardrick Fowler Sr. lost his son to gun violence last year. Police ruled the death a suicide, but Fowler did not trust the investigation. He’s worried about the level of gun violence in Austin, but he’s skeptical that adding more officers will help make Austin safer.
“They don’t even know us. The majority of them are white,” he told Fox News, saying the police had no connection with his community.
Debate over the role of the police amid record increases in homicides rages across the country.
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A recently released Pew survey found that 47% of Americans think police spending in their area should be increased, while 37% say it should stay about the same. Only 15% were in favor of reducing police funding.
The survey also found that black and Hispanic Democrats were more likely than white Democrats to support increased funding for local police.
Mackowiak, the co-founder of Save Austin Now, is optimistic about the chances of Proposition A at the polls.
“It’s a simple, balanced, thoughtful and reasonable proposal, and I think it will pass,” he said.
Breaking News Updates Fox news Austin, Texas, funded its police department. Now voters will decide if the city needs more officers