AUSTIN, Texas - Austin City Manager Spencer Cronk has announced a series of initial actions that will begin to address systemic inequities in policing.
Cronk outlined a plan calling for the creation of advisory working groups, reallocation of existing and future resources, and actions to increase transparency and accountability in a memo addressed to the city council.
“I recognize that we must be deliberate and intentional in breaking down the systemic and institutional barriers in Austin,” Cronk said. “This is not just a law enforcement issue. This is a public health issue. This is a social services issue. This is an economic and housing issue. And this is very much an issue of trust and accountability. This proposal aims to tackle the root causes of these issues holistically, starting with reimagining what public safety means in Austin.”
The advisory working groups will include representatives from the city's advocacy, faith, public safety, and business community organizations. They will be comprised of a variety of disciplines including the City’s Equity Office, Office of Police Oversight, Austin Public Health, and Austin Police Department to drive these vital conversations.
“I think it's an exciting discussion. I think it's a needed discussion, but it really needs to turn into action because people need to feel safe the way they haven’t in the past," Cronk said Thursday.
The plan calls for creating a cross-functional team to lead the City's reform efforts. The team will be led by the Deputy City Manager, the Asst. City Manager for Safety, and the Asst. City Manager for Health & Environment and Culture & Lifelong Learning. Working with city staff, leadership will convey with the new advisory working groups to reimagine what public safety means for the city and develop recommendations to bring that vision into fruition.
“This is a complex and multi-faceted challenge that we must tackle head-on. Fortunately, this City has some very creative, passionate, and innovative people – both on staff and in the community – and I trust that, working together, we can bring about the change we all know is so badly needed,” Cronk said.
The plan also identities areas of consideration for upcoming budget deliberations. The proposed budget will provide opportunities for the city to consider new options for functions that have traditionally existed with APD. This includes questions concerning staffing, public health investments, and adjusting the scope of responsibilities of numerous City departments.
“Our budget is a reflection of our collective priorities and we have made progress over the last few years in increasing the portion of the City budget dedicated to public health and social services. In order to fully realize the promise of a new vision of public safety, however, we must rethink how we task and resource our staff and programs,” said Cronk. “Next month, I will bring forward a proposed budget for the Council’s consideration that is guided by not only Council’s recent direction, but also the spirit of the conversations occurring in our community.”
"My thoughts to the city manager is we got to be presented with something that provides a significant move towards diverting funds how we used to do public safety. I can’t see myself unless there is a significant move in funds," said Mayor Pro Tem Delia Garza Thursday. "I can't see myself voting yes on a budget.”
Additionally, the city is looking to strengthen existing transparency and accountability systems. These include such things as launching a public dashboard to track progress, increasing the resources and authority of the Office of Police Oversight, creating a civil rights division, and seating the Community Police Review Commission.
"Government doesn’t work fast and it is frustrating because this is an emergency. We are going to go as quickly as we can. There is no caveat to that, no amount of time we spend on this is going to make me happy, but we are going to push as hard as we can." chair of the public safety committee Jimmy Flannigan said Thursday.
“Trust is essential in accomplishing our shared goals,” said Cronk. “The community is demanding greater accountability. Now, more than ever, we a committed to providing the transparency necessary to rebuild and strengthen trust with our residents and achieve an Austin that provides all people with the dignity, respect, and opportunity they deserve.”