A lot of people don’t understand #ReimagineATX: Let us help!

If you don’t understand what Austin City Council actually did with the police budget, you are not alone. If you want to help your friends and family understand, we’ve made a page to help.

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The police force is not smaller, and there is no reason for officers to fail to do the job you expect of them due to “the budget.”

  • Only $21 million was actually cut from the $440 million police budget (less than 5%.) In difficult economic times, agencies throughout government routinely face cuts more significant than this.
  • No officers were laid off in the making of this budget. Austin has the same number of officers today as we did at the end of the just finished fiscal year.
  • Austin elected not to put new officers into the Police Academy this year because the curriculum needs to be revised.
  • It is likely that the force will shrink slightly due to normal attrition over the course of the year.
  • That money was spent to increase EMS staff by 67 EMTs, including 14 community health paramedics who help the unsheltered homeless, those in behavioral health crisis and those experiencing drug overdose. The money supported gun violence prevention programs, a family violence shelter, a harm reduction program for those experiencing addiction and much more.

The City Council directed the City Manager to move a number of civilian departments out of the police department. These departments will report to new managers but they will continue doing the necessary work they do now. Most of this reorganization has been a long time in the making.

  • After years of study, it is clear that Austin needs an independent forensics lab like the one that Houston created years ago.
  • Moving the 911 call center out of the police department and making it independent will encourage better service and help eliminate inefficiencies, including the overapplication of too many emergency response resources to individual calls.
  • Most controversial, Council has directed staff to move those who investigate police misconduct out of the same chain of command as the rest of the Department. The investigation of officers must also be independent.

Finally, the City Council put a list of specialized police units on a list for evaluation. Each one of these units has its own set of issues. 

  • The Mounted Patrol needs a new stable and has needed one for a decade. After voters funded this project through bond money, no stable got built and the bond oversight commission noted two years ago that the costs had skyrocketed. The stable is going to cost $8 million, or about half a million per horse. Maybe it’s time to retire the horses.
  • The K9 unit recruits staff and trains dogs as a weapon. These dogs are trained to bite people. The use of dogs against people of color has a long and torrid history dating back to slavery. Recent use of force datasets indicate that dog bites during police interactions do occur. Meanwhile, the “best use” case is drug interdiction. This is an area where there is an ongoing debate among scientists over the role of the police handler in the dog’s “alert” behavior. These are issues that will be evaluated over the course of this year.

Right sizing the police force.

  • There is no easy relationship between crime levels in a city and levels of expenditure on police or the number of police officers. 
  • Cities with serious violent crime problems have grown huge police departments and remain troubled. Relatively peaceful cities like Austin may have more, or substantially fewer police officers.
  • Community calls for “community policing” have served as path to metrics that ensure an ever growing department because police insist that they now need a percentage of “free” time to conduct community policing activities. These activities are largely undefined and discretionary.
  • Cities across the country have started to realize that before deciding how many police are needed, leaders must decide what they want their police to do. Should they tend to the unsheltered homeless? Should they decide whether a mentally ill person needs inpatient treatment? Should they administer drugs to people who need medication? Should they counsel a troubled teen or a frightened victim of domestic abuse? These are often the tasks that arise on a police officer’s shift, and many officers agree that they are not trained for this kind of work. We can either train police to do everything, or substitute alternative staffing for many of the crisis calls that come into 911.
  • These are the kinds of questions that a Task Force has been commissioned to study and discuss over the coming year.

IF all this makes sense to you, as it does to us, the organizations supporting this campaign, sign our petition and volunteer. We will have yard signs you can post in front of your residence to show your support. We will have literature and would love help distributing it. And we will be on social media in every channel reminding Austin that we are safe, smart and we’re doing the right thing.