A bipartisan nonprofit group in Austin, Texas, is in the process of obtaining petition signatures for an ordinance that would push back on the City Council’s vote last year to slash up to $150 million from the police department. It immediately cut $20 million and has continued to reallocate money.
After taking part in the effort to pass Proposition B — a law that reinstated a camping ban downtown and in surrounding areas — Save Austin Now seeks to address the city’s lurch toward lawlessness and disorder. The Council voted unanimously to cut the budget last August amid the Black Lives Matter and Antifa riots that plagued the country.
Since 2015, Austin has witnessed a 124 percent increase in gun-related crimes. As of two months ago, Interim Police Chief Joseph Chacon said the city could be on track for the most homicides ever in a year. “We haven’t seen these types of homicide rates since the 1990s, and if we continue at this rate there is potential that we could have the most murders that we have ever seen in our city,” said Chacon. “That is not a statistic that we want to see happening.”
“Austin has never been less safe than it is today and we must make Austin safer for everyone who lives here,” Save Austin Now’s co-founders Matt Mackowiak and Cleo Petricek told The Federalist in a joint statement. “The unconscionable 11-0 city council vote in September 2020 cut up to one-third of the police budget ($150 million) and it is having disastrous effects on our city. Homicides are on track to double last year’s all-time record. Our current police staffing level is equal to 2008, when Austin was 45% as large as it is today. Attrition is harming readiness and response times. Police morale is at an all-time low. We cannot recruit, retain, or pay overtime. Thankfully, we can fix this. Mayor Steve Adler and the City Council have once again made our city less safe and they refuse to admit it. We will again clean up their mess.”
The proposed ordinance would require a minimum of two police officers per 1,000 population and a 35 percent community response time. Mackowiak estimated that the current police officer rate per capita is somewhere around 1.2 people.
Texas Municipal Police Association is one group that has partnered to back the petition. Kevin Lawrence, the executive director, did not take part in crafting the petition but told The Federalist that “there’s all kinds of tricks cities can pull to manipulate numbers.” When asked if perhaps there should be more officers on duty per 1,000 people than two, Lawrence said, “I don’t know if that is the right number.”
Save Austin Now aims to require another 40 hours of post-cadet class training hours each year after the Council canceled classes and redirected funds to COVID-19 response and family shelters, among other items. Just as the U.S. Armed Forces grants awards to servicemen who display excellence, eligible officers could receive a “Good Conduct Medal.”
In order to boost hiring and incentives, the ordinance would also offer compensation for officers proficient in multiple languages. Another provision seeks to encourage the placement of officers in areas of similar cultural and racial backgrounds.
Mackowiak pushed back on the idea that this would involve racial quotas and claimed several police organizations agree one way to “build trust” in communities during this racially divisive time is to “lower the temperature” and “rebuild the bonds of trust, to ensure that you have as much demographic alignment and diversity alignment in specific neighborhoods as possible.”
Lawrence said the city is aware that the budget-cutting backfired and is quietly trying to adjust its position. “They reversed course, but they didn’t do it publicly,” Lawrence said. “They announced that they were going to trim a third of the police department budget. They started laying off officers, losing officers, and then they figured out real fast it was a bad idea. Plus there were a couple of polls that came out that showed the people didn’t agree with it. They reversed course but they’ve been very quiet about it. They haven’t recovered from it.”
Republican Texas Gov. Greg Abbott signed a bill on June 1 to penalize cities that enact police budget defunding. The law says any municipality with a population of 250,000 or more that cuts budgets would be banned from increasing property taxes or utility fees, as well as forfeit sales tax funding to the state. A second bill Abbott signed requires counties with 1 million or more people to hold elections prior to defunding police, and counties that do not do so would receive a freeze on property tax revenue.
Save Austin Now’s petition must obtain 20,000 certified signatures by Aug. 3 to get on the November 2021 ballot. Its goal is to break a city record and reach 50,000 signatures.
Other groups that back the petition include SafeHorns, Austin Police Association, Texas Police Association, Combined Law Enforcement Associations of Texas, Austin Retired Police Officers Association, United Hispanic Contractors Association, and Amigos en Azul.