Austin, TX – Texas Governor Greg Abbott said he is considering a proposal to put the state in charge of policing a large portion of central Austin, after the state capital city’s council opted to defund the local police department by a staggering 34 percent.
Abbott previously broached the subject in mid-November, when he announced he was considering having the Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) take over policing in some Austin areas due to skyrocketing homicide rates.
“Austin experiences highest number of homicides in 20 years,” the governor tweeted on Nov. 9. “This is why it is absurd that Austin is defunding police.”
“It is also why Texas will act to roll back that defunding and consider taking over policing some areas of Austin,” he added.
Abbott narrowed his focus further during a tele-town hall on Wednesday, The Texas Tribune reported.
“Something else that I’m thinking about doing, and that is because we have people coming from across the world and across the country into our capital city, as well as to the university, we can’t make our fellow Texans be victims of crime … because of the city of Austin leadership,” Abbott said, “and so what I think we need to do is have a Capitol zone area that the state will be in charge of policing, and we can use city of Austin police officers for this.”
The proposed area Abbott is considering putting under the Texas DPS purview would include the Texas Capitol, the downtown area, the Governor’s Mansion, and the University of Texas at Austin, among other spaces, The Texas Tribune reported.
“We can make sure that area is extra safe for anybody who’s walking around downtown, walking around the Capitol, walking around the university,” Abbott explained.
It is unclear when Abbott might make a final decision about the proposal.
Austin Mayor Steve Adler blasted the governor’s idea, calling it an “unprecedented commandeering of local law enforcement…designed to distract us from the truth,” The Texas Tribune reported.
“It’s going to be a long legislative session if it’s all about rallying a political base and making us scared of one another,” Adler said. “Our state has serious challenges with too many uninsured, inadequate funding for education, and an insufficient pandemic response. They need to be our focus.”
The mayor further claimed that despite the soaring homicides, Austin is one of the safest cities in the U.S.
In addition to potentially sending the DPS to take over policing in certain areas, Abbott also announced in August that he is planning to introduce legislation aimed at freezing property tax revenue for any city in the state that defunds its police force.
“When crime is on the rise, the last thing we should do is defund the police,” Abbott declared during a joint press conference with Texas House Speaker Dennis Bonnen and Texas Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick in Fort Worth on Aug. 18, according to KRIV.
“Any city that defunds police departments will have its property tax revenue frozen at the current level,” the governor continued. “They will never be able to increase property tax revenue again if they defund police.”
“Cities that endanger residents by reducing law enforcement should not then be able to turn around and go back and get more property tax dollars from those same residents,” he added.
Abbott further argued that caving to demands to defund law enforcement is not a cure-all for incidents of alleged “police brutality,” The Texas Tribune reported.
“If we have police brutality, we don’t need fewer police, we need less police brutality,” Abbott said, pushing instead for increased training for law enforcement.
The governor’s announcement came just days after the Austin City Council voted to defund the city’s police department by a staggering 34 percent.
“It is not acceptable,” Bonnen said of the $150 million budget cut. “Law enforcement is not a tool of political agendas, and I would ask the city of Austin to stop using them as one.”
But Austin City Councilmember Greg Casar, who crafted the plan, said that defunding the police department was what local citizens said they wanted, The Texas Tribune reported.
“The message from the tens of thousands of Austinites who made their voices heard in this year’s budget process was clear: We must decrease our over-reliance on police to handle all of our complex public safety challenges and instead reinvest in domestic violence shelters, mental health first responders, and more,” Casar said.
He added that the massive police budget cut was only the beginning, The Texas Tribune reported.
“This moment has been born out of a lot of hurt in the community,” Casar said at the city council meeting on Aug.13. “We know we have a long way to go.”
The three-tiered plan will kick off by immediately stripping $21.5 million from the police budget to be “reinvested” into programs such as abortion, housing, mental health response, offender re-entry programs, and workforce development, among others.
That money was previously allocated to fund three Austin Police Department (APD) police cadet classes, The Texas Tribune reported.
Nearly $80 million will be funneled into a “Decouple Fund,” which aims to transfer many police programs to outside agencies.
Included in the Decouple Fund are functions such as the special investigations unit, internal affairs, the 911 center, victims’ services, and forensic science services, among others.
Nearly $50 million will be transferred to the “Reimagine Safety Fund,” which will “divert dollars…toward alternative forms of public safety and community support,” according to the city council’s plan.
Abbott resoundingly denounced the defunding measure in a press release later that same day.
“Some cities are more focused on political agendas than public safety,” Abbott wrote. “Austin’s decision puts the brave men and women of the Austin Police Department and their families at greater risk, and paves the way for lawlessness.”
“Public safety is job one, and Austin has abandoned that duty,” he declared. “The legislature will take this issue up next session, but in the meantime, the Texas Department of Public Safety will stand in the gap to protect our capital city.”
Adler said that Abbott should pay more attention to COVID-19 instead of worrying about the city’s police department, KATU reported.
“I would suggest that the governor really needs to focus on this growing infectivity rate that he has in his state,” Adler quipped. “And we’ll focus on keeping our city safe.”
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton said that Austin’s police defunding plan was a “political haymaker driven by the pressures of cancel culture,” The Texas Tribune reported.
“Unfortunately, the targets of this ‘cancelling’ are the brave men and women who selflessly put their lives on the line to keep our families safe,” Paxton told the news outlet. “The city council’s action to slash funding disregards the safety of our capital city, its citizens, and the many guests who frequent it.”
Texas State Senator Dawn Buckingham slammed the Austin City Council’s proposal one day before the measure was approved.
“It does not surprise me that the so-called leaders at Austin City Hall plan to cut up to $150 million from Austin Police Department’s annual budget amidst the radical national movement to defund our police departments,” Buckingham said.
The city’s plan will force APD to cut approximately 100 police officer positions, she noted.
Austin Police Chief Brian Manley later said that the department would actually need to cut about 150 positions, bringing staffing numbers down to the level they were at in 2015, according to the Associated Press.
“This comes at a time where crime has skyrocketed in Austin, accounting for the highest percentage increase in homicides amongst big cities in the nation with over a 64% increase,” Buckingham wrote. “Austin’s excuse of a City Council has decided to side with lawlessness and put its citizens in danger.”
The senator further questioned how allocating at least $100,000 to “abortion access services” will benefit the community.
“In what world would increasing access to killing unborn children make Austin a safer place to call home?” Buckingham asked. “This is just the latest charade in the Austin City Council’s agenda to ensure that more unborn children are killed in the name of progressivism.”
The Austin Police Association said in a tweet that the defunding plan is “ridiculous and unsafe.”
“They are going to ignore the majority who do not want the police defunded,” the union wrote on Aug. 13.
Chief Manley said that the budget cut will not only hurt the APD cadets and their families, but it will also damage the “reputation of the [APD] in the recruiting circles,” according to the Associated Press.
Casar blew off the widespread criticism in a series of victorious tweets on Aug. 13.
“Extreme, anti-civil rights voices will try to send us backward and are already working mislead people about this vote,” the councilman wrote. “But today, we should celebrate what the movement has achieved for safety, racial justice, and democracy.”
Meanwhile, Austin activist group Communities of Color United complained that the $150 million budget cut wasn’t good enough, FOX News reported.
The group had demanded that the city strip at least 50 percent of APD’s budget away.