Is this the Austin we want?
In the first ten months of this year, murder increased 54 percent in Austin, arson is up 34 percent, auto theft increased 30 percent, and aggravated assault is up 19 percent. Robberies, building thefts, vandalism, and burglaries have also increased. (The latest Chief’s Monthly Report is available here.)
As the “reimagining” process falters, it’s increasingly clear elected leaders chose political expediency over public safety. Police reform is possible without putting the community at risk. Patrol response and investigations will suffer because of reckless budget decisions.
Overtime to backfill patrol vacancies won’t last long, and more officers are leaving the department than anticipated. There could be another 190 or more vacancies by this time next year, putting Austin at least 417 officers behind what the most recent staffing study recommended by fiscal year 2021.
The last forty-two police cadets graduated more than a month ago. No more academy classes are scheduled because of the city council’s budget action. Claims that police training is fundamentally flawed were unfounded. Recent evaluation reports (Ferguson and Villanueva) recommended improvements but also acknowledged the strengths of the police training academy and staff.
Thursday is the last regular meeting of the Austin City Council until January 27. Since the first seventeen weeks of training is state-mandated, city leaders should give the green light now to start a police academy class in March 2021. Cadets starting in March will not be on the streets until the end of next year.
The City-Community Reimagining Public Safety Task Force will meet virtually this Wednesday, December 8, from 4:00 until 8:00 p.m. The task force has met six times in the last three months and has yet to discuss any of the Austin Police Department programs and services under consideration to be cut or moved as part of a mid-year “transition budget.” More than a dozen social justice groups and the Greater Austin Crime Commission are represented on the task force. The meeting will be livestreamed on Facebook and Zoom.
For thirteen years, the Austin Police Department and community have benefited from the selfless public service of Alice Thomas, who retires at the end of the year as an assistant director and member of the executive team. Alice was a patient and reliable resource for many years, helping the Greater Austin Crime Commission and our public safety coalition partners understand the city budget process. We will miss Alice and look forward to a post-pandemic reception in her honor.
Early voting for runoffs in City Council Districts 6 and 10 continues through Friday. The runoff election is Tuesday, December 15. Be an informed voter. Research the public safety positions of council candidates. Find your council district here and voting locations in Travis and Williamson counties.
P.S. Due to the public health crisis, the Austin Police Operation Blue Santa won’t be delivering gifts, but needs community help to raise $500,000 for food and toy gift cards. The program, which began in 1972, is expected to assist more than 8,000 families and 18,000 children this year. Click here for more information about donating online or by mail.