Local NewsTaxes & SpendingPetition Effort to Restore Austin Police Funding & Staffing Turns in Over 25,000 Signatures

If validated, Save Austin Now will have two successful petition efforts under its belt in less than a year.
July 19, 2021
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“107 days from now, we are going to have an overwhelming victory,” Matt Mackowiak, co-founder of the activist group Save Austin Now and Travis County GOP chair said while announcing the group’s collection of over 25,600 signatures to restore Austin Police Department’s (APD) funding.

The group was joined by representatives from the Austin Police Association, Combined Law Enforcement Association of Texas, Texas Municipal Police Association, Texas Police Association, and the Austin Police Retired Officers Association (APROA).

Nearly a year after the Austin City Council approved a $150 million APD budget cut and redirection, it appears likely its restoration is well on the way toward this November’s ballot. The group says every petition has been validated by themselves and expects a validity rate close to their mid-90s percentage for the homeless petition effort.

While it fell short of the goal to collect 50,000 signatures in 50 days, only 20,000 is needed to secure a spot on this November’s ballot. Additionally, Mackowiak noted in a Monday press conference that 40 percent of the petitions sent in for this effort were from citizens that did not sign a petition for the camping ban reinstatement.

Save Austin Now announced the effort in late May, not even a month after the group’s resounding success at the ballot box to reinstate the public camping ban.

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The APD-related petition effort does a handful of things:

  • 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

“Our ballot measure ensures that the Austin Police Department is not solely subject to the [city council,]” said Save Austin Now co-founder Cleo Petricek, a mother and Democrat.

APD currently has over 160 patrol vacancies and is 390 officers short of an adequate staffing level — widely considered two officers per 1,000 residents. APD is currently at 1.2 officers per 1,000 residents, according to department figures.

Dennis Farris with the ARPOA said, “When [APD] had adequate staffing, Austin was the safest city in Texas and one of the safest cities in the country, and it’s not anymore — despite what Mr. Adler says.”

Some city officials have objected to the proposal, saying it cannot be efficiently financed within appropriate bounds. Mackowiak objected to this, stating, “The question of funding wasn’t an issue until they defunded. So the money was there before and it can be there again.”

Councilmember Greg Casar, one of the city’s chief advocates of its recent drastic reforms, reacted on Twitter, stating, “This right-wing petition would force Austin to arbitrarily budget for hundreds more police officers, while threatening to slash budgets for other basic services: EMS, firefighters, mental health, parks, libraries, [and] more.”

Last week, the City of Austin announced its $4.5 billion budget proposal for Fiscal Year 2021-2022. It includes a nominal restoration of much of the total removed from under the APD wing — $133 million in additional department funding from last year’s budget.

But much of the restored total comes from placing the forensic lab, professional standards oversight, and the 911 call center back under the APD umbrella. The neighborhood-based policing category is $3 million lower than its 2019 budgeted amount.

Since last summer, the average APD response time increased roughly a minute and 30 seconds.

There have been 47 homicides in Austin so far this year, equal to the entire 2020 total.

Pointing to the three homicides on Austin’s 6th Street over the last four weekends, Mackowiak stated, “The simple reality is that Austin is less safe today than it was yesterday, and it’ll be less safe tomorrow than it is today.”

The validation process by the city will take about two weeks and then a firm ruling will be issued on the petition’s success or failure. If successful, the council must then approve ballot language for the November 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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