AUSTIN, Texas - A few Austin City Council members have released proposals for cutting the Austin Police Department budget this upcoming fiscal year.
One of the more controversial ideas proposed by council member Leslie Pool, District 7, could affect the way the bomb squad operates.
“Basically, this is all aligned to respond to the community's concerns. But I really want to make a strong point here, we are not sacrificing community safety,” said Pool about her proposal. “I am ready to continue to dig deep and do the hard work and listen to all sides of the question. I value the voices on all sides of this question. I have endeavored to be open to all of them."
However, current and retired officers like Dennis Farris, who sits on the board of the Austin Police Retired Officers Association, call her proposal “incredibly irresponsible.”
Pool lists eliminating unfilled police positions, cadets, closing the academy for a year, cutting the overtime budget by $10 million and eliminating mounted patrol as possibilities for cutting the police budget.
Under possible additional cuts that she said she is looking into, she lists the Explosive Ordinance Team, better known as the bomb squad.
“I think their memory is really short of something that happened about a little over two years ago. The city was terrorized for 19 days by a guy that was putting package bombs on people's porches, mailing them to them, leaving them on the side of the road, things like that. Well, who do you think goes and diffuses those things? It's the bomb squad,” Farris said.
Pool said this is still the beginning of budget conversations, so her team is only considering what parts of the bomb squad could be eliminated.
“Are there portions of that that we no longer need? Are we looking at training with military-grade weapons that really don't happen here?” she asked.
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“What does she mean by military-grade explosives that aren't happening in this community? What is a military-grade explosive? A bomb is a bomb,” Farris said.
“What I read into that is, ‘we don't want them to get any training from the military.’ Well, who do you think the premier EOD techs in the world are? It's the United States military,” he added.
Farris said it's also important to note that the APD bomb squad helps surrounding communities as well.
“They serve the Central Texas region. They are the premier bomb squad. They are one of the premier bomb squads in the country,” said Farris.
“So that's really good to know and getting the data on how often that happens would be really good for us all to have. If that is an unusual circumstance, then perhaps we staff for an unusual circumstance. And maybe we have fewer people who are trained in order to look at a suspicious package,” Pool said.
Farris believes city council should consider moving certain calls to other departments, like truancy calls, noise complaints or minor crashes, but said cutting patrol officers, parts of the bomb squad, lake patrol or the mounted unit will leave the community less safe.
“There's evil in the world, right? Somebody has to stand between the good people and the evil people and those people wear badges,” said Farris.
So far in 2020, 58 Austin police officers have retired. On average, in previous years there are 45 during for the entire year.