The Austin City Council will consider three police-related items tomorrow that will have far-reaching effects on law enforcement in our community.
Every public safety decision by city leaders is now even more consequential. The impact of budget cuts and canceling police cadet classes is evident. The Austin Police Department currently has 278 operational vacancies, creating a patrol staffing crisis that jeopardizes timely response to 9-1-1 calls. The community can’t afford mistakes that worsen Austin’s public safety plight.
Item 56 is a postponed resolution to reinstate automatic license plate readers for the Austin Police Department. The city council cut this longstanding law enforcement tool from the police budget in 2020.
- This low-cost technology scans license plates to check for missing persons, stolen vehicles, and other criminal activity. It will not affect the new fiscal year budget.
- There are no examples of previous misuse by Austin police. Yet some council members want to reduce the number of cameras to as few as four and limit the data retention period to three minutes, rendering the information almost useless.
Item 86 requires the city council to decide whether the “Austin Police Oversight Act” ballot petition is set for the May 2023 election or adopted as an ordinance.
- The ballot petition makes extensive police oversight changes, and there has been no opportunity for the community to understand the ramifications. Voters should be able to decide.
- The ballot petition effectively gives the Office of Police Oversight and Community Police Review Commission power to investigate police misconduct with limited due process protection for officers.
- Adopting the ballot petition as an ordinance will restrict the city manager’s ability to negotiate a contract with the Austin Police Association, which has been underway for months.
Item 91 is a resolution that directs the city manager to maintain current police benefits through May 2023 if a labor contract is not approved by March and the petition is on the May ballot.
- Extending benefits provides certainty for officers during contract negotiations.
- If approved, no officer would lose their terminal pay, which is the value of accumulated vacation and sick time.
Bottom line? Fewer resources = fewer police officers = slower emergency response times.
What can you do? Call and email the mayor and council today. Urge them to:
- support reinstating license plate readers,
- support extending officer benefits, and
- let voters decide about sweeping police oversight changes.
Thank you for your support and commitment to making Austin a safe community for everyone.