I know you’re concerned about what the Austin City Council did yesterday. Same here.
We’re worried about police budget cuts when crime is increasing and response times are slower, but also hopeful about opportunities for community involvement in the next few months.
In a news conference yesterday, Chief Brian Manley reassured us that despite budget cuts, responding to 911 calls will remain the police department’s top priority. He demonstrated the leadership and professionalism that has earned the community’s confidence. “If you call 911, our officers will respond,” Manley said.
Here’s what happened yesterday. The Austin City Council:
- Unanimously approved an FY21 budget that made substantial cuts to the police department.
- Cut $21 million from the police department and moved funds to community health paramedics, family violence, mental health response, violence prevention, and other programs.
- Cut 150 police officer positions. This reduces the authorized force strength to 2015 staffing levels when Austin had 100,000 fewer residents.
- Cut funding for all three police cadet classes in FY21.
- Cut $2.8 million in police overtime, which is equivalent to 22 full-time officers.
Here’s what didn’t happen yesterday. The Austin City Council:
- Didn’t cut $150 million from the police department budget. Nearly $129 million was put in a “transition budget.“ A community task force led by Deputy City Manager Nuria Rivera-Vandermyde will consider whether the functions in the transition budget should be cut, moved, or remain in the police department.
- Didn’t cancel police cadet classes for next year. While academy funding was cut, a budget rider by Council Member Natasha Harper-Madison leaves open the possibility of cadet classes next year if the curriculum is revised and funding is secured.
How will these cuts impact the police department and public safety?
- Cutting 150 police positions will cause significant reductions in divisions and units, such as the District Representatives Program, Highway Response Team, Lake and Park Patrol Units, and Organized Crime Division.
- Cutting cadet classes worsens the police staffing shortage. It will take years to recover.
- Cutting overtime will complicate operational decisions, particularly in situations like the serial bombing, massive demonstrations and protests, and special initiatives to address crime trends.
There is much work to do in the next six months. The Greater Austin Crime Commission will be a constructive partner in the City-Community Reimagine Public Safety Task Force. But the Austin City Council also needs to hear from the Neighborhood Network about proposals to cut or move more police services.
I’m thankful for you and thousands of other supporters who stood up for safety this summer.
P.S. The Neighborhood Network will play an essential role in the months ahead. Urge your family and friends to sign up for regular updates and get involved in the community discussion about public safety. Please follow us on Facebook and Twitter.