After police funding is cut, rise in violent crime, voters head to polls to decide if the city needs more police
AUSTIN Texas – Amid nationwide protests seeking police reforms last summer, the Austin, Texas, city council decided to cut about one-third of its police budget – the largest cut of any major city in America.
Councilman Greg Cesar, a progressive who spearheaded the push to cut funding, said the vote offered a moment to “celebrate what the movement has achieved for safety, racial justice, and democracy.”
Recently, the Austin Police Department asked the public here to start calling 311 instead of 911 for a host of emergencies and certain crimes, citing, in part, the staffing shortage that they have. They just simply don’t have the manpower,” Lars Trautman, national director of Right on Crime, told Fox News.
In August, the council – under pressure from a rise in violent crime and a new state law that penalizes cities that defund the police – reversed course on its cuts, approving a substantial increase in police funding.
But activists at Save Austin Now think it’s too little, too late. They successfully worked to put a referendum, Proposition A, on the ballot, with a special election set for Tuesday. The measure would require the city to maintain two police officers per 1,000 residents (Austin is currently around 1.6), promote additional training and offer incentives to recruit officers who speak additional languages.
Matt Mackowiak, Chair of the Travis County Republican Party and founder of Save Austin Now, the group behind Prop A
It would be easy to think Save Austin Now is tilting at windmills, given that the city is known for its progressive values. But despite opposition from most local politicians and progressive activists, voters in the spring supported a ban on homeless encampments – another Save Austin Now effort.
Katie Naranjo, Chair of the Travis County Democratic Party explains why she and other members of No Way on Prop A oppose the referendum.
There’s also the question of whether funding alone could solve the police staffing problems.
“APD has a hiring problem. They don’t have a funding problem,” Naranjo said. “And so I do support them being fully staffed. At the same time, they don’t need the additional officers or the additional funds if they can’t even staff the positions they have now.”
But he worries the referendum would harm his department.
“The problem is the law is poorly written and will literally eviscerate other public safety entities,” Nicks said.
Donald Baker, the police association’s secretary, disagreed, arguing that there’s more than enough money in the budget to fund Proposition A.
“Will the city council have to look at some of their pet projects and some of their other discretionary spending and decide they want to put that money back into the police services? Yes, they will.” Baker said.
Virtually every Austin resident Fox News spoke with said violent crime was a problem, but they differed on whether beefing up the APD would make things better.
A recently released Pew survey found that 47% of Americans think police spending in their area should be increased, while 37% say it should stay around the same. Just 15% supported cutting police funding.
The survey also found that Black and Hispanic Democrats were more likely than white Democrats to support increased funding for local police.
Mackowiak, the Save Austin Now co-founder, is optimistic about Proposition A’s chances at the ballot box.