Last year after the death of George Floyd, cities like New York City, Chicago, Minneapolis, St. Louis, Portland, Seattle, San Francisco and Los Angeles all cut their police budgets in the range of 5-15 percent, and correspondingly violent crime rose, 911 call response rates increased, and attrition soared as morale plummeted.
But there is no city where the consequences have been graver than in Austin, Texas, the 11th largest city in the country.
The Austin City Council voted 11-0 in August of 2020 to cut and reallocate up to one-third of the $450 million Austin Police Department (APD) budget, cutting 150 police positions immediately, canceling two scheduled cadet classes and delaying the graduation of the most diverse class in history for four months.
This decision has led directly to the most profound police staffing crisis in our city’s history.
Austin had roughly 1,800 police officers before the defund vote. As of October 20, we have 1,497 available officers, with APD expected to lose another 100 officers before the year ends. This staffing decline is attributable to two simultaneous factors: resignations and no replacements.
Since that fateful vote last year, monthly resignations have been between 15-22 officers per month this year, and 25 resignations in September (the most in our history). Our city cannot add one new officer until the current cadet class graduates next spring. We will be at 1994 staffing levels by year’s end.
Three weeks ago, then-interim police chief Joe Chacon made a nearly unprecedented announcement for a big city: APD will no longer send police officers in response to 911 calls unless a life is being immediately threatened or the perpetrator is on the premises. Starting Oct. 1, APD is directing Austinites to no longer call to report burglaries (residence or vehicle), most car crashes, suspicious persons, thefts and property thefts, verbal disturbances and animal service incidents. Instead, Austinites can upload their own photos to a website or call 311 and wait days or weeks for a response.
Chief Chacon specifically cited the city council’s man-made staffing crisis and the Reimagining Public Safety Task Force, which is filled with radical activists and is the brain child of socialist Council Member Greg Casar, who authored the budget cut.
This follows a disturbing trend in 911 response rates this entire year. In January, priority zero and priority one 911 calls (the most urgent categories) had an average response time of 7 minutes, 30 seconds. Now the average is more than ten minutes, and that is on a weekday. Delays are much longer on weekends.
In the meantime, the staffing crisis is directly contributing to the violent crime wave our city is witnessing. We are experiencing the most significant violent crime wave in city history this year.
As of October 20, our city has suffered 71 homicides in 2021 and are on track for 86 this year, an 80 percent spike in 2020’s modern-day record of 48. The victims of the violent crime wave in our city are disproportionately minority Austinites.
Save Austin Now PAC’s analysis of homicides this year found that, “Of the 61 homicide victims for 2021, 72% were African American and Hispanic”, while those populations total 42 percent of the city’s population. For African Americans in Austin, they represent 7.6 percent of the city’s population, but represent 36 percent of homicide victims in 2021.
It gets worse. Proactive policing has essentially stopped, as the following specialized units have been closed: Parks, Street Gangs, Property Crimes Task Force, Motors and Highway Response Team (traffic fatalities just hit 100, a 33 percent increase from last year, and road rage is up sharply), DWI Enforcement and Criminal Interdiction. At least six other specialized units have been reduced.
Austin has never been less safe than it is today, but Austin voters may soon change that.
Save Austin Now PAC placed on the ballot Prop A, which ensures adequate police staffing, increases community policing, doubles police training hours and enacts sensible police reforms.
On staffing, the ordinance requires a minimum standard of 2.0 police officers per 1,000 population, a national standard for safe cities, combined with a minimum of 35 percent community response time (or uncommitted time) to increase community policing.
On training, the ordinance requires an additional 40 hours of post-cadet class training hours per year, making Austin the best and most trained police department in the country.
On reforms, the ordinance includes provisions to boost minority hiring (through foreign language proficiency), ensure racially diverse community policing, and provides retention bonuses for officers without police complaints.
Opponents of an adequately funded and staffed police department include three national groups who pumped into at least $725,000 to fight Prop A: George Soros through his Open Society Foundation, The Fairness Project (funded primarily by the California Nurses Association) who contributed $200,000 and national labor union AFSCME who gave $25,000. None of these groups have anything to do with Austin.
If Austin voters pass Prop A and overcome the avalanche of outside money, this proposal can it become a model for other cities who are suffering from the disastrous consequences of Defund the Police.