Fashioned as a “reimagining” of policing, the city council approved a $150 million budget cut and redirection to the Austin Police Department (APD) a year ago. Since then, APD staffing levels have waned with a current vacancy total of 163 and the department’s response time increased 1 minute and 30 seconds. Currently, the department is operating at around a 1.2 officers per 1,000 residents staffing level.
Austin is nearly on pace this year to double its homicide total from 2020, which was already a sharp increase from the year before.
The petition — launched in May by Save Austin Now (SAN), the group behind the public camping ban reinstatement — turned in over 27,000 signatures on July 19.
Of that total, 93 percent were deemed valid by the city clerk using a sampling method, well over the 20,000 needed.
The petition does various things, such as:
- Mandate a minimum staffing level of 2.0 officers per 1,000 residents
- Establish a minimum 35 percent community response time standard
- Require 40 additional hours of training
- Oblige the mayor, city council, and city staff to enroll in the Citizens Police Academy
- Facilitate minority officer hiring through foreign language proficiency metrics
“The upcoming election poses a stark choice for Austin voters: If you vote for our proposition, Austin will have adequate police staffing, the best trained police force in the nation, and enact important police reforms,” SAN co-founders Matt Mackowiak and Cleo Petricek said of the news,
“If you vote against our effort, we will continue to see the police staffing crisis worsen, violent crime skyrocket, and our city become measurably less safe for every neighborhood.”
On Monday night, two of the effort’s staunchest critics, Mayor Steve Adler and Councilmember Greg Casar, began political opposition to the petition.
Tweeting a video taken of, purportedly, petition circulators associated with the group, Adler said, “Save Austin Now is lying about their petition. Their goal is to force Austin to pump tens of millions of dollars into the police department without any accountability.”
“Join me in rejecting this misleading campaign and rejecting Save Austin Now.”
Casar echoed a similar message.
Mackowiak hit back, saying, “Steve Adler, Greg Casar, Equity PAC and associated extreme groups will attempt to smear this effort for the next three months, they do not care about public safety and want to watch Austin burn.”
Adler and Casar formed the most significant opposition to the May homeless camping proposition but were roundly defeated at the ballot box.
The city council now has 10 days to either adopt the petition language as law or call an election.
Earlier this week, Save Austin Now accused the city of seeking legal advice on pushing the petition’s vote past November — purportedly citing the delayed redistricting.
A city spokesman told The Texan, “While we cannot discuss our communications and advice with our clients, we can say that the Clerk’s Office is in the regular process of validating the signatures.”
“If the petition is valid, Council will have the option of adopting the ordinance exactly as written, or placing it on the November 2021 election.”
Unless something drastic changes, this issue will go before Austin voters on November 2.
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Brad Johnson is an Ohio native who graduated from the University of Cincinnati in 2017. He is an avid sports fan who most enjoys watching his favorite teams continue their title drought throughout his cognizant lifetime. In his free time, you may find Brad quoting Monty Python productions and trying to calculate the airspeed velocity of an unladen swallow.