Thursday, August 13, 2020

Austin, Texas to cut police funding by $150 million

This week, the Austin, Texas City Council will consider one of the most substantial cuts to a major city’s police budget since George Floyd’s death, which sparked calls across the country to defund law enforcement and redirect that money to services like violence prevention, supportive housing, and substance use treatment, reported The Appeal.

Three City Council members have put forth a joint proposal to shrink the police department’s budget by nearly $150 million and reinvest those funds in services for the community. It would reduce the police department’s budget for the first time in over a decade. Advocates have called on the city to cut APD’s budget by at least $100 million; the joint proposal would do that, and move an additional $50 million from the Austin Police Department budget to a transition fund.

“Our primary response to problems as a local government is policing,” Councilmember Gregorio Casar told The Appeal. “Our community has come together like never before and demanded that change, and set a goal post of $100 million as a signal to that change.”

The vote comes after months of protest in Austin and demands from hundreds of community members to reduce APD’s $434 million budget, and reinvest that money into services that create safe and healthy communities. A session to vote on the budget begins on Wednesday, but the public comment period could push the vote itself off to Thursday or Friday.

Cities across the country have voted to cut police budgets in recent months. The Minneapolis City Council moved to disband its troubled police department in June, though the effort has since been stalled. The Los Angeles City Council voted to reverse a $120 million increase to the LAPD’s budget and cut an additional $30 million, while the New York City Council shifted $1 billion away from the NYPD. In Portland, Oregon, the mayor and superintendent agreed to remove police officers from the city’s schools and put the $1 million budgeted for school resource officers back into the community. Austin’s proposal would cut the police department’s budget by roughly a third, a larger percentage reduction than these other cuts.

The proposal put forth by Councilmembers Casar, Natasha Harper-Madison, and Mayor Pro Tem Delia Garza late last week combines many of the ideas council members have recommended throughout the budget process. Comments on the City Council message board seem to indicate a majority of the 10 council members support it: Councilmembers Leslie Pool, Ann Kitchen, Sabino “Pio” Renteria, and Jimmy Flannigan expressed their support online. Austin Mayor Steve Adler has also said he could support cutting $100 million so long as that move will be used to make fundamental changes. 

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