AUSTIN, TX – Governor Greg Abbott and the Texas legislature sent a message to the city of Austin, and every other city in the Lone Star state: You want to defund the police? Then we will defund you.
The Austin City Council cut the police department budget back in August of 2020 by a whopping 33%, or $150 million.
The new budget called for an immediate reduction of roughly $20 million and included the cancellation of the next three scheduled police academies, although they said they would reconsider allowing limited academy attendance if the curriculum were revised in a “suitable manner” (more details on what led up to this vote below).
They also said that any open positions that could not be filled in FY2020-2021 would be eliminated altogether.
As part of the recently completed legislative session in Texas, law makers crafted a bill and passed House Bill 1900, signaling that the state of Texas has the backs of their law enforcement agencies. Governor Abbott signed that bill into law on Sunday, June 27th, and it takes effect on September 1st.
I just signed a law that will penalize Austin for defunding police.
TX Dept. of Public Safety will pick up the slack & will be paid by sales taxes that would've gone to Austin.
Austin will lose annexation power & won't be able to increase taxes & fees.https://t.co/YxbfJafw4W
— Greg Abbott (@GregAbbott_TX) June 28, 2021
The law requires that any Texas municipality with a population of more than 250,000 must hold an election before they are able to reduce law enforcement funding. If they do reduce it, they will face the same penalties that the state’s capitol city might see with further defunding actions like we saw last year.
After HB 1900 passed, Abbott told Fox’s Harris Faulkner:
“…I’m about to sign a law that will ensure that cities in the state of Texas will not be able to defund the police,” Abbott said according to Fox News.
“First, the context: and that is that you pointed out, what’s going on in Minneapolis, where it is both a tragedy and a disaster. What’s going on for the residents of Minneapolis because of the defunded police and you’ve seen the same thing in Portland and Seattle and Chicago and New York, et cetera.
“Unfortunately, we had the same thing happen here in the state of Texas where the city of Austin defunded police … and because Austin defunded the police, we wanted to do two things in this session.
One, we wanted to make sure that there were going to be consequences for the city of Austin. The second is we wanted to make sure that no other city in the state of Texas would defund police.“
This new law will not cause Austin to feel the pinch for its decision, unless they choose to defund the Austin Police Department budget again in the next fiscal year.
Keep in mind, the city has already eliminated three academy classes, seen numerous officers retire or resign and are attempting to delete any open positions that are not filled by the end of this summer. What does all that mean? Fewer officers on the streets of Austin, Texas.
As illustrated below, the city and its residents are certainly feeling the impact of the city council’s decision.
Abbott has not been shy in his criticism of the move by the Austin City Council.
This is what defunding the police looks like.
Austin is incapable of timely responding to a victim shot in the head.
Texas won't tolerate this.
We're about to pass a law-that I will sign-that will prevent cities from defunding police.
Sanity & safety will return. https://t.co/UtQVoUXzBL
— Greg Abbott (@GregAbbott_TX) May 24, 2021
Nor has he been alone in that criticism.
Our friends at TMPA took out a few billboards in the Austin area last year to highlight what this could mean in the city.
Billboard on I-35 warns 'Enter at your own risk!' after Austin votes to defund police.#TexasBacksTheBluehttps://t.co/4RFhUfap10
— Greg Abbott (@GregAbbott_TX) September 9, 2020
So, what exactly does the bill allow the governor to impose on the city of just over 1 million residents?
Municipalities found to be in violation of this new law will be disqualified from annexing any district or communities that were previously unannexed for a period of 10 years.
Subsequently, the municipality must, on the next uniform election date, put the question of dis-annexation on the ballot for any locations annexed in the previous 30 years. Any areas that vote in favor of being dis-annexed must be immediately issued an ordinance of dis-annexation.
The defunding municipality may not attempt a re-annexation within the same 10-year window mentioned previously.
While there are several aspects to the taxation capabilities of the defunding municipality, it basically states that the municipality may not raise property taxes. It also provides for situations in which the defunding municipality also owns any utility, preventing the utility from increasing fees.
The governing body of a municipally owned utility may not charge a customer:
(1) at a rate higher than the rate the customer was charged or would have been charged on January 1 of the year that the municipality was determined to be a defunding municipality;
(2) any customer fees in amounts higher than the customer fees the customer was charged or would have been charged on
January 1 of the year that the municipality was determined to be a defunding municipality; or
(3) any types of customer fees that the customer was not charged or would not have been charged on January 1 of the year that the municipality was determined to be a defunding municipality.
While there are other functions of HB 1900, the gist of it is: if you are a city or county with a population of 250,000 or more people, and you decrease the law enforcement budget, the state will now limit your ability to create new revenue for the municipality for the foreseeable future.
It also provides for the governor to deploy the Texas Department of Public Safety (state troopers) to provide the needed coverage in that municipality. To cover the cost associated with the DPS participation, the defunding municipality would have the cost deducted form their local sales tax revenue.
While the law Abbott signed does not guarantee that there is no defunding activity in the state, it certainly creates a disincentive for doing so.
Craig Goldman, a Republican from Fort Worth, wrote and sponsored the bill.
“Let’s support public safety in this state. Let’s support our police. Let’s back the blue,” he said.
Well said Mr. Goldman. Well said.
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Austin City Council plans a ‘defund the police’ vote, gives members 3 days to pick a side
AUSTIN, TX – The Austin City Council has a very important vote planned. They, like numerous other metropolitan areas around the country are talking about defunding the police department.
This didn’t sit well with the Austin Police Association, who wrote a letter requesting a delay to that vote.
Before we jump into the letter and the calls for defunding, let’s take a look at the Austin Police Department.
Austin is the capitol of Texas. It has a population of right around 1 million people. It is also home to the University of Texas, the second largest university in the state, averaging an additional 50,000 students in Austin each year.
The police department is comprised of 2,600 employees, 1,900 of which are officers. That works out to about 1 officer for every 552 residents.
According to the budget document for the city’s 2019-2020 fiscal year:
“The Austin Police Department serves the residents of Austin through neighborhood-based patrol, investigating crimes, providing traffic control, and answering in excess of a million emergency and non-emergency calls for service annually.
Patrol officers are dispatched to over 330,000 of these calls and work an additional 260,000 self-initiated calls, with detectives working over 32,000 property crime cases and 3,800 violent crime cases.
The Austin Police Department strives to keep Austin one of the safest large cities in the nation with a violent crime rate among the lowest for peer cities.”
The current budget for the department, which expires on September 30th, is $434M, accounting for roughly 40% of the city’s annual budget.
At last Friday’s Council meeting, several members filed resolutions that threaten to reduce that number, as well as eliminating 190 full-time law enforcement positions and freezing the academy indefinitely.
This would mean that as officers retire, there would be know graduating cadets to back fill those positions, leaving the department that much more short-handed.
Of those resolutions the two that had the most impact on the law enforcement community were Items 95 and 96.
“Council Member Greg Casar brought forward Item No. 95 which would implement changes to Austin Police policies and tactics.
This resolution would strictly prohibit police from using chokeholds or strangleholds, require de-escalation tactics in all circumstances, ban officers from shooting at moving vehicles, ban the use of tear gas and impact munitions on people exercising their First Amendment rights, limit no-knock warrants, limits the use of facial recognition technology by police, and delay the July APD cadet class until the training curriculum is overhauled, according to prior council direction.
“Item number 96 provides direction for Austin’s upcoming budget that no additional sworn police staff positions should be added and that sworn positions the department cannot reasonably fill in FY 2020-2021 should be eliminated, redirecting those unused funds to other public health and safety efforts.”
The Greg Casar effort to go after APD @Chief_Manley was hatched on May 18 — seven days before George Floyd died and long before the local protests.
The insane #DefundThePolice effort has been a goal of DSA, Austin Justice Coalition and Casar for a long time.#ATXcouncil
— Matt Mackowiak (@MattMackowiak) June 5, 2020
“As calls for the resignation of leadership within the APD escalate, Chief Brian Manley had the opportunity to explain to the council on Friday why he made certain decisions over the course of the protests.
“Manley explained his initial decisions were based on what he saw happening around the country and preparing for it locally.
“‘The purpose of us and what we were trying to do was to give people the space to come out and exercise their right to free speech and to do so in a safe and positive manner,’ Manley said. ‘This was unlike anything we have ever seen as a country and especially like we dealt with last weekend [May 30 and May 31], nothing we have ever dealt with in our own community.'”
Worth noting about the policies of Austin, the city council can only request a resignation, they cannot fire the chief. Only the city manager has the authority to impact Manley’s position, with his only recourse being a demotion. He cannot fire the chief either.
Mayor Steve Adler joined a local news broadcast to discuss this upcoming vote.
It is these resolutions, coupled with the fact that council members and citizens were given only a few days to weigh all the options and have a conversation that led to the letter written by the Austin Police Association.
The letter opens with this statement:
IN MIDST OF PUBLIC SAFETY CRISIS, AUSTIN POLICE ASSOCIATION CALLS FOR DELAY OF DEFUNDING VOTE
In the letter, Craig Casaday writes:
“Last Friday, in the midst of the greatest moment of unrest in recent City history, Austin City Council members…filed three last minute resolutions that will be considered during this Thursday’s Council meeting.
If passed on Thursday, the resolutions, particularly Item 95 and Item 96 could cut over 190 police positions from the next city budget and halt the next police cadet class indefinitely, creating an additional public safety crisis in the midst of the one we are experiencing right now.
“George Floyd was murdered by Derek Chauvin, who should have been protecting him. It was a crime perpetrated by officers of the law. We condemn the evil acts of those individuals. They do not deserve to wear the uniform.
Institutional racism must be eliminated and police procedures must be reviewed with vital reforms enacted to prevent this from happening in our community.
We are committed to having a frank conversation about necessary reforms. We cannot; however, in the heat of this very tender moment, move to defund the good men and women in our police force who are working the longest hours of their careers and doing an admirable job protecting their community during the most tumultuous time in our lives.
“The situation we face as a nation is a powder keg. It is important to stop and reflect on this crucial fact: both protestors and police officers are human beings experiencing distress and fear.
During the recent protests, our officers had fireworks, rocks, and bottles filled with unknown substances hurled at them along with many words of hate. The bottles were especially distressing given that Molotov cocktails, though unsuccessfully lit, were made to hurl at police.
In response to these objects being thrown, several of the officers fired bean bag projectiles and foam batons (the APD did not use rubber bullets) to cease the acts. These procedural means of crowd control are non-lethal but can cause injury.
It is highly regrettable that some of the protestors were sent to hospital as a result. It is very unfortunate that some peaceful protestors were injured. That has compounded the situation.
“We are eager to discuss our procedures and ensure the most effective methods of de-escalation and empathetic policing.
That conversation is critical. But the consequences of quickly defunding our department, reversing a multi-years agreed-upon plan with the City to meet the needs of our growing area, would significantly lessen patrols in every neighborhood, including our marginalized communities, and reduce our ability to handle local child abuse, sex crime, domestic violence, and robbery/aggravated assault caseloads.
“We request that the City Council first delay action on these resolutions as there are still two months until the final budget is adopted.
These big issues require a big conversation and the citizens of Austin need more than three business days to fully consider the impacts and consequences of these measures as well as several others that will improve our procedures to ensure a safer community of compassion and understanding.
Every citizen of Austin will be affected by this vote on Thursday. You can reach your city councilperson at the following links to make your voice heard ahead of the vote: www.austintexas.gov/contact-us and www.austintexas.gov/email/all-council-members.”
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