“This proposal for the state to take over the Austin Police Department is one strategy I’m looking at,” said Abbott. “We can’t let Austin’s defunding & disrespect for law enforcement to endanger the public & invite chaos like in Portland and Seattle.”
This comes after a year-long standoff between the governor and the City of Austin’s leadership over issues ranging from the ongoing homelessness problem to its decisions regarding policing.
Last month, the Austin City Council cut APD’s budget by $150 million with the plan to divert substantial portions of the funding to other “community based” programs. That motion was part of a nationwide effort to drastically change the way police departments are constructed.
The movement reached its apex after the death of Minneapolis man George Floyd at the hands of a police officer sparked nationwide protests.
The City of Austin’s homicide rate jumped 64 percent in the first half of 2020, totaling 23 deaths.
In August, Abbott announced his intention to freeze property tax rates for cities that “defund” their police departments. The substance behind the “Defund the Police” slogan varies greatly across the country, but Austin took one of the more drastic steps, short of dissolving its department like Minneapolis initially voted to do. The move was then halted by the city’s Charter Commission.
The advisement letter to Abbott, authored by Terry Keel and Ron Wilson, reads, “Compelling statewide policy issues have been created by [Austin’s] defunding actions, which have already led to…deploy[ing] the Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) resources for general law enforcement duties within the city.”
The letter proposes legislative text, reading, “A municipality with a population of one million or more, with its primary police department having a ratio of fewer than 2.0 sworn police officers per 1,000 residents, where the governor has determined, due to insufficient municipal resources being appropriated for public safety needs, the safety of the public is jeopardized such that the [DPS] must supplement general law enforcement duties within said municipality, The legislature may by Act:”
- Merge the APD with DPS as a special municipal police department, answerable to the DPS director;
- Appropriate a “sufficient” portion of Austin’s tax revenue for its operations;
- Require the Public Safety Commission to make budget recommendations;
- Instruct the Comptroller to deposit state monies into a special fund to finance the new department.
Recommending this legislation next session, the letter further adds, “It is not realistic to expect that Austin’s council during our lifetime will significantly change its anti-police leanings.”
The Austin City Council has remained largely united in its revamping of the police department. But being the capital city, the localities are not the only law-enforcement game in town and the governor’s patience with the city’s conduct seems to be thinning by the day.
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Brad Johnson is a senior reporter for The Texan and 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.