Austin, Texas, defunded its police department. Now voters will decide if city needs more officers
After police funding cut, rise in violent crime, voters head to polls to decide if 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.”
But since the budget cut, Austin has gotten much less safe. According to statistics compiled by the data analysis firm AH Datalytics, the city has seen a nearly 71% increase in homicides over the past year. While homicides have increased nationwide since 2020, Austin’s increase is one of the largest the firm has tracked.
The funding cuts brought with them a series of changes to the Austin Police Department. Cadet classes were canceled, making it more difficult to bring more officers onto the force. Certain specialized units were cut back. Attrition soared. By May 2021, police staffing shortages led to a 30% increase in 911 response times.
AUSTIN CITY COUNCIL MEMBER SOUNDS ALARM ON ‘DISASTROUS CONSEQUENCES’ OF DEFUNDING POLICE
“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.
“People here locally do not want to fund defund-the-police efforts. They do not want to defund the police,” Save Austin Now co-founder Matt Mackowiak, who is also a long-time Republican activist, told Fox News.