It has been 102 days since the last class of forty-two cadets graduated from the Austin Police Department Training Academy. The police department now has seventy-six vacancies, on top of the 150 positions cut by the Austin City Council in the current fiscal year budget. Much work has been done to improve police recruiting and training. For the safety of our community, cadet classes must restart this spring.
In his State of the State address last night, Governor Greg Abbott outlined public safety priorities for the legislative session. He designated bail reform and limiting the ability of cities to defund police as emergency items, which means the legislature may consider related proposals earlier in the session.
This Thursday, the Austin City Council will consider a staff recommendation to make Forensic Science an independent department reporting to the city manager. The Greater Austin Crime Commission supports the change.This is part of the “decoupling” proposals being considered as the city “reimagines” public safety. The move will result in $11.9 million being shifted from the police department budget.
The city council will also vote on a resolution (Housing-Focused Homeless Encampment Assistance Link or HEAL) to connect individuals experiencing homelessness to housing and services in four locations. Public camping will be prohibited in the designated areas after these individuals are housed or enter housing-focused shelter. Council Member Ann Kitchen’s resolution is co-sponsored by council members Alison Alter, Mackenzie Kelly, Leslie Pool, Sabino (Pio) Renteria, and Kathie Tovo.
The City-Community Reimaging Public Safety Task Force meets next on February 10 at 5:30 p.m. Fifteen social justice groups and the Greater Austin Crime Commission are represented. The task force has formed workgroups to make policy recommendations this spring. The Greater Austin Crime Commission is coordinating the Business and Economic Development Workgroup, which includes the Austin Chamber, Downtown Austin Alliance, and Real Estate Council of Austin. If you are interested in participating, please email us.
Last week, Travis County District Attorney Jose Garza shared a letter to the community. He announced several policy changes, such as ending prosecution of the sale of drugs in small amounts and prioritizing violent offenses that pose a threat to the public in the case backlog. The City of Austin Office of Police Oversight released a memo recommending de-escalation and use of force policy changes.
Stay safe and well.