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Race to Re-Fund?

August 13, 2020…

The Austin City Council unanimously voted to cut its police department budget by $150 million after officers and the city’s top cop faced months of criticism over the killing of an unarmed man Black and Hispanic man, the use of force against anti-police brutality protesters and the investigation of a demonstrator’s fatal shooting by another citizen.

The council's move made Austin the first of Texas' four biggest cities to drastically cut police department funding. The share of the police department budget that was cut was among the largest percentage decreases in the nation in 2020.

The original to cut police funding by about one-third of its total $434 million budget called for immediately cutting around $21.5 million from the department.

Another $80 million in police budget cuts would come later from a yearlong process that would redistribute civilian functions like forensic sciences, support services and victims’ services out from under the police department and into other parts of city government. About $50 million would come from reallocating dollars to a “Re-imagine Safety Fund” that would divert money toward “alternative forms of public safety and community support through the yearlong re-imagining process.”

The council's proposal also included eliminating 150 vacant officer positions, so that the police department will begin fiscal year 2021 without any unfilled sworn positions.

Here is my favorite part…

“Specifically, we support re-imagining traffic safety and enforcement within this proposal. We can easily divest over $18 million from traffic enforcement when most of these functions can be administered by unarmed civilians and is not required to be police work.”

February 19, 2023…

Austin City Council Members are speaking out about the police department's vacancies and ongoing problems at the 911 call center after a chaotic scene unfolded downtown on Saturday night.

Street racers took over an intersection at South Lamar Boulevard and Barton Springs Road, drifting in the middle of the street and setting off fireworks as throngs of people looked on at the mayhem.

One law enforcement officer was injured and several police cars were damaged in the fracas.

One Council Member noted that she is "increasingly concerned about our police vacancies."

Council Member Alison Alter told the Austin American-Statesman that she happened upon the street takeover and called 911, but ended up on hold for 28 minutes.

The Austin Police Department's emergency communications division has been dealing with a staffing crisis for several months, with the 911 call center lowering its minimum staffing requirements last August due to unprecedented vacancy rates.

In October, the average hold time for 911 calls in Austin was two-and-a-half minutes. Only about two thirds of 911 calls were answered within 15 seconds that month, far below the national standard of 90% in 15 seconds or less.

Kelly and Alter were the only two council members this week to vote against a one-year contract extension between the city and the Austin Police Association.

Another Council Member statement emphasized that Austin “needs more police officers for patrolling the streets, the downtown area and special events” and another statement pushed for “more police responding to calls for service”.

APD's funding was restored after the 2020 decisions and uprisings in order to comply with a state law passed in 2021 but by then the damage was done. Disheartened and fed-up officers left the APD in droves, specialized units were reduced or dis-banded and cadet classes had been cancelled. The national attention paid to the initial actions of the council and protestors all but killed APD’s ability to market and recruit in order to replace the missing officers.

The Austin Police Association Tweeted late Saturday night: “Austin policy makers are directly responsible for the overall safety of their citizens & visitors. Looks like they failed to make the right decisions & continue to defund, destroy, & demoralize public safety. Austin was one of the safest cities, NOT anymore.”

Over the last several years, media coverage and public emotion coupled with political parties seeking as much air time as possible have all come together to create this “defunding” solution. Unfortunately, as with most decisions made in anger and haste, this “solution” solves nothing and as we saw this weekend in Austin, might even cause a few new problems to arise. If politicians were to truly poll the public, they would find that a majority of Americans do NOT support defunding any police department, in fact, two-thirds of those polled without bias are against reducing police budgets at all.

Last week during an Energy and Commerce Committee field hearing at the southern border, U.S. Representative Angie Craig called for bipartisan action to stop the flow of fentanyl into the U.S. and criticized committee members for politicizing the fentanyl crisis.

The Minnesota Democrat was assaulted in the elevator of her D.C. apartment building earlier this month, and the suspect, a repeat offender, has been arrested on a simple assault charge. Craig has called for a crackdown on repeat offenders since she was attacked and of course cried for beefing up the border to stop the drug flow as well.

Angie Craig is known to be closely associated with defund the police extremists, yet here she is today, like the people of Austin, wanting the full protection of law enforcement. It is good to see that Angie Craig may have started to re-think old relationships and has started to think with her head and not the voices of others.

We can only hope that the City of Austin does not have to pay for past sins too much longer and that this climate too will change.

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