Not surprisingly, the community reacted strongly to police budget cuts by the Austin City Council a few weeks ago. More than $21 million and 150 police positions were cut. Another $128.8 million was placed in a “transition budget.”
Did it make sense to cut cops when crime is rising and response times are slower? Decide for yourself. Download the Crime in Austin and Chief’s Monthly Report reports that detail public safety trends.
This past weekend, several news outlets reported on the police department’s plan to reallocate officer positions cut by the city council.
Many specialized police units will be affected. Several may be cut entirely, such as Executive Protection, Parks, and Street Gangs. Others will be substantially reduced, including District Representatives, DWI, and Major Crimes.
Investigations will suffer, and patrol response will be affected. Patrol officers will have to assume the workload of some units, such as DWI, Major Crimes, and Parks.
Calls for service won’t decrease. Remember, there are no scalable “alternative responses” available for homelessness or mental health calls. The police department still responds to those calls, and there is no way to know if or when that will change.
Why were specialized units cut? Most of the vacant officer positions cut by the city council are currently in patrol. Those vacancies were filled using overtime, which the city council also cut. And with no cadet classes presently planned, the department had to develop a staffing plan by shifting officers from specialized units to patrol.
Social justice activists suggested the staffing plan was “leaked” to scare the community. That’s not true. They ignored the timeline, which shows that the staffing changes take effect in January. It takes months to select the officers who will move, allow “hardship” requests to be processed, and give notice per the police contract.
The Austin Police Department was forced into this position. The city council did not listen to the concerns expressed by Chief Brian Manley during the budget process. In yet another example of political expediency over evidence-based policy decisions, council members only asked, “how many positions can we cut without firing officers” not “does cutting cops make the community less safe?”
This fall, the Greater Austin Crime Commission and a coalition of business and community groups will urge the Austin City Council to make mid-year budget and policy changes:
- Restart police cadet classes.
- Restore police positions.
- Resume police staffing plan implementation.
- Carefully consider additional cuts to police functions and services.
- Promote alternative responses to improve outcomes and reduce police workload (for example, homelessness and mental health calls).
- Call and email the mayor and city council. If voicemail is full, let your council member know. Keep trying.
- Host a virtual Neighborhood Network meeting. Contact us for suggestions.
- Register to vote. Deadline is October 5. Early voting begins October 13.
Next week will mark the nineteenth anniversary of 9/11, which reminds all of us about the life-threatening sacrifices first responders make every day. Please thank the firefighters, medics, and police that keep us safe.
P.S. Support the Neighborhood Network. Your tax-deductible donation will help us fight for public safety.