ATX Together: Police Defunding

Posted on October 20, 2020

ATX Together: Police Defunding is now available to stream.

This episode presents two sides of a complex and charged community issue. Austin PBS invited representatives from the Austin Justice Coalition and the Austin Police Association to contribute commentaries for this page. We did not receive a post from the police association.

To take a deeper dive into this topic, please see the resource links below Mr. Moore’s commentary.

Reimagining Safety: Why Our Budgets Should Reflect the Bold Changes Our Community Demands
By Chas Moore
Executive Director, Austin Justice Coalition
Chas Moore

In August 2020 the Austin community took to the streets in unprecedented numbers to demand justice for the victims of police violence. This call reached beyond revenge or reform, aiming at a new beginning — a new public safety paradigm. Community voices were quick to observe that the Austin Police Department was originally created at the end of the Civil War to continue the work of slave patrols by enforcing new vagrancy laws against the recently emancipated. A force created with such express purposes could not be changed through mere reforms or community policing objectives; broader transformational change was needed. New times called for new ideas.

In light of these demands, the city council first approved a series of ordinances prohibiting chokeholds, tear gas, the use of impact munitions on crowds, restricting the use of force on persons fleeing and reducing the purchasing of military equipment, amongst other measures.

This initial stage of “Reimagine Public Safety” was followed by a year-long plan for deep structural and institutional change through the city’s budget, starting with immediate cuts, and unfolding into broader departmental change over time. This process is divided into four key steps:

  1. Immediate Reductions - $31.5 million This first step allowed the community to transfer $31.5 million away from policing, mostly through the cancellation of three cadet classes and the reduction of 150 new vacancies, overtime and mounted patrol civilian vacancies.

  2. Reinvestments - $31.5 million Following the immediate reductions, this step reinvested the money into emergency medical services, mental health first response and the creation of a new family violence shelter, along with resources to address substance abuse, food insecurity, the expansion of Integral Care’s mobile crisis outreach team, funding for the city’s equity office and several other items.

  3. Decoupling - $76.6 Million This third step involves an ongoing process to evaluate a number of services currently housed within the police department that may be done more efficiently by civilians. Some of the services include the forensics lab, the 9-1-1 call center, internal affairs, victims services and the special investigations unit.

  4. Reimagining - $45.1 Million The fourth and final step involves carefully scrutinizing police programs such as mounted patrol, the K-9 unit, lake patrol, recruitment services and traffic enforcement. The Reimagine Taskforce created by council will carefully evaluate each of these programs and look for civilian or cost-efficient alternatives. Not every program will be "defunded." First alternatives will be proposed, discussed and developed.

At every step, reductions and reallocations help create space for new, better programs. Beyond defunding, this is a demand for professional and cost-efficient services, coupled with the intentional channeling of resources into community supported priorities like mental health first response, supportive housing and COVID-19 relief.

The Austin community has faced challenging timeswith local businesses closing, a continued housing and eviction crisis and strained public health services. The old police budget wastefully consumed over 40% of the city general fund while failing to protect the community. Training materials for new cadets were poor and outdated; numerous reports documented deep cultural problems within the department. By responding to widespread city demand, the Reimagine process creates room for real change, while also supporting underfunded and strained departments such as EMS. The process is far from over, and only continued community action can see this through to completion; but, we believe that a first and crucial step has been taken. The reimagining has finally begun.

Here are links to take a deeper dive into the topics discussed on ATX Together: Police Defunding.

Report: Reimagining Public Safety in Austin

Task Force: Reimagining Public Safety in Austin

Chief Art Acevedo: Testimony Before Congress - June 10, 2020

Houston Public Media: Houston Police Reform Task Force

Report: City of Houston Mayor’s Task Force on Policing Reform