Local NewsAustin’s Prop A to Establish Minimum Police Staffing Level Fails in Citywide Vote

The potential second rebuke of the Austin city council in 2021 fell flat after voters overwhelming rejected a proposition that would have set a minimum police staffing level.
November 2, 2021
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In a 68 percent to 32 percent result, Austin voters rejected a proposition that would have set a minimum staffing level for its police department of two officers per 1,000 residents.

The early vote totals set Proposition A and its proponents at a severe disadvantage. Travis County early voters cast ballots against the measure 67 percent to 33 percent — a difference of nearly 30,000 votes.

Had it passed, Prop A would have:

  • Mandate a minimum staffing level within the Austin Police Department (APD) of two 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

But that hiring mandate would come at a financial cost, the ultimate price tag of which was hotly debated. Ultimately, the proposition was rejected and Save Austin Now, the group responsible for the ballot initiative, could not replicate its achievement back in May.

The group managed to pull off a resounding 60 percent to 40 percent victory to reinstate the public camping ban after two years of shanty town encampments sprouting up on roadsides, in parks, and near other public areas.

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But the group could not prevail a second time.

As polls closed, Save Austin Now co-founders Matt Mackowiak and Cleo Petricek said in a statement on Facebook, “Our fight to make Austin the very best place to live, work and raise a family continues after tonight.”

Mayor Steve Adler claimed victory before any Election Day votes were reported, saying, “Austin’s culture and values were on the ballot tonight.”

“This election reaffirms our community’s belief that public safety for all requires a comprehensive system that includes properly staffing our police, but also our fire, EMS, and mental health responses as well.”

The Austin Police Officers Association appeared to see the writing on the wall after early vote totals came in. 

“The steps moving forward are up to the Mayor & City Council to get much needed cadet academy classes going & start the rebuilding for the future of the Austin Police Department,” the organization said in a statement.

“We kept hearing Mayor Adler & council members say the budget already exists to hire 300 more officers, so let’s get to work and get the process moving forward.”

Both sides of the issue were well funded, each raising over $1 million. Six months after crashing and burning on the public camping ban reinstatement, the progressive organizations behind the city’s policy changes mounted a more organized effort. They also pulled in $500,000 from billionaire progressive benefactor George Soros.

Chas Moore, the head of one of those organizations — in fact, the one chiefly responsible for the 2020 budget cut — told The Texan last month that this election was a de facto referendum on his ideas.

On Tuesday night, he said, “This vote shows Austinites saw through all the lies from the police union and the GOP. I’m proud of this city and everyone who came out to vote.”

Moving forward, Austin still has a crisis of attrition on its hands as police officers leave in large numbers for a city rising rapidly in population. Neither that trend nor the alarming crime trends, namely the homicide spike, are likely to end with this vote.

And if indications made before the vote are true, 150 to 200 more officers are bent on retiring early in January, spending their own money to buy forward service time. APD is already down over 300 officers from its staffing level two years ago and will be even more dependent on the academy classes, that were delayed by council, providing much needed staffing for the hemorrhaging department.

Newly minted APD Chief Joseph Chacon has challenge on his hands, to which his actions have contributed. But it existed before Prop A and, in all likelihood, will continue to fester after it.

Editor’s Note: This article has been updated to include the unofficial final results of the election.

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Brad Johnson

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.

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