Neighborhood Network

November 16, 2020

Dear Neighbor,

At the cost of thirteen police officers for a year, we have another city study.

Last week, the Austin City Council approved a contract worth up to $1.3 million with Kroll Associates Inc. to “conduct a comprehensive, multi-pronged investigation of the extent to which forms of racism, bigotry, and discrimination are present in the protocols, practices, and behaviors of the Austin Police Department.” The report is due December 6, 2021, nearly two years after the council resolution that authorized the investigation.

What will the community learn? Not much. Taxpayers have already funded related reports and studies. In April, the Tatum Report into allegations concerning a former Austin Police Department assistant chief found no policy violations. This summer, training evaluations by Dr. Miguel Ferguson and Dr. Sara Villanueva did not recommend stopping cadet classes. The reports suggested improvements, but also acknowledged the strengths of the police training academy and staff. There is also an external training video review expected to be finished this month.

Despite rising crime and slower response times, the Austin City Council voted unanimously to cut 150 uniformed positions and as much as $153.2 million from the police department budget.

With seven weeks left in 2020, Austin has had forty-four homicides this year, which is the most murders in at least two decades and tops the next highest of thirty-nine in 2016. What other crime has increased this year? Arson (38 percent), auto theft (31 percent), and aggravated assaults (18 percent) are also up.

There are fewer police officers to handle more crime. Several crime categories were already rising before the Austin City Council substantially reduced the police budget and canceled cadet classes. But while recent cuts may not cause increased crime, patrol response and investigations are strained.

What can you do? Join the Better Safe coalition of businesses and community groups urging the city council to re-start cadet classes, restore police positions in mid-year budget adjustment, and carefully consider additional cuts to police services. Reply to this email or click here for more information.

The City-Community Reimagining Public Safety Task Force has met six times for more than fifteen hours 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 “transition budget.” More than a dozen social justice groups and the Greater Austin Crime Commission are represented on the task force. The next meeting is scheduled for December 9, from 4:00 until 8:00 p.m., and will be streamed online.

While the Austin task force struggles to start, HoustonPittsburgh, and national organizations have issued reform recommendations.

Bill pre-filing began last week for the 87th Regular Session of the Texas Legislature, which convenes on January 12. Law enforcement and public safety will be prominent issues. Dozens of police reform proposals have already been introduced, including the George Floyd Act (HB 88/SB 161). Neighborhood Network supporters will receive regular updates throughout the legislative session.

Stay safe and well.

Best,

Corby

P.S. Mayor Steve Adler wrote an “open letter” to graduates of the recent (and last scheduled) cadet class. Let’s hope his words match the Austin City Council’s actions in the months ahead.