AUSTIN, Texas - On Thursday the Austin City Council passed a series of items that will shake up the way things are done at the Austin Police Department.
“This is a moment in time where we can realize systemic change throughout the community in so many different ways,” said Mayor Steve Adler.
The first to mention is an item setting a goal to create zero racial disparities in policing and beyond.
“We have race disparities in our community that are apparent. As we see the virus right now, we know communities of color are being hospitalized at a greater percentage and are dying at a greater percentage. We know there is a differential life expectancy of 10 years if you grew up on the east side versus the west side,” said Adler.
The second to mention is converting the council judicial committee into a council public safety committee. This expands the council's role in public safety overall. For activists like Chas Moore, the most important item to pass was taking a look at the police budget.
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Moore is calling for the council to defund the police department by $100 million. The department’s budget last year was more than $430 million. But he explains, defunding means something more than just taking away.
“It means that instead of relying on APD or police to be the solution to all things public safety, that we invest in other alternatives. We have to get into the work of building community and building people up as opposed to locking them away and tearing them down,” said Moore.
“We are not going to ban or defund police here in Austin,” said Adler. He agrees that money should be allocated elsewhere, but nobody should expect the police to disappear.
The Austin Police Association president said the council needs to slow down. “I just let them know that first of all they were overreaching and second of all they were doing it way too fast,” said Ken Casaday.
However, he does agree with changing the role of the police. “They want to make changes to mental health to where civilians do that which I agree with. I’m fine with giving up that responsibility and moving some of our FTE’s over to civilian positions,” said Casaday.
Greg Casar's item changes policies on police force, strictly banning chokeholds, tear gas, and other tactics. Casaday feels, in certain crowd control situations, tear gas is needed. “It cleared the interstate in about 5 seconds. Nobody wants any part of that,” he said, describing protests from two weeks ago.
Police budget talks will begin in July, with a budget release happening in August.