AUSTIN, Texas - On Tuesday, the political action committee Save Austin Now reported the Austin City Clerk certified their Austin police staffing petition for the November ballot.
The initiative aims to address the staffing shortage at the Austin Police Department. It requires the employment of at least two sworn officers per every 1,000 residents and full enrollment for no fewer than three full-term cadet classes until staffing levels for the department return to the levels prescribed in the 2019-2020 city budget.
The initiative also calls for a minimum of 40 additional hours each year of mandatory continuing education for officers. It provides financial incentives for officers who speak common non-English languages, participate in a mentoring program, or are eligible for good conduct citations.
If adopted, it would also require the mayor, council, their staff, and those seeking a public safety commission position to complete an Austin Police citizens training academy and ride along.
"We're going to do everything we can to ensure that our police department is adequately staffed, that our police department is the best trained of any major city in America," said Save Austin Now co-founder and Travis County GOP Chairman Matt Mackowiak.
Monday night, the Travis County Democratic Party in conjunction with other activist groups released four cellphone videos of canvassers working on behalf of Save Austin Now. The videos were recorded in June.
In one video a canvasser can be heard telling a woman, "we're trying to double up on police training so like de-escalation training, anti-discrimination training, mental health training." When the woman asks to see the petition, the man responds "yeah for sure, uh that's not the wording."
As stated above, the ordinance does call for an additional 40 hours each year of mandatory continuing education for all sworn police officers. The ordinance states the curriculum would be developed by the commander of the department academy and "emphasize skills essential to the everyday split-second decision-making officers face on the streets in areas such as critical thinking, defensive tactics, intermediate weapons proficiency, active shooter scenarios, and hasty react team reactions."
"In the trainings that they go so far as to detail and prescribe, de-escalation training is never once mentioned." said TCDP chair Katie Naranjo.
FOX 7 Austin asked Mackowiak to clarify, who said "de-escalation training will be part of the additional 40 hours that are in that are going into the ordinance. It's going to be up to the academy to determine exactly what's in there. And I've said that consistently at every press conference we've had. But having talked to their leaders, they want de-escalation training."
In some cell phone videos shared with FOX 7, it was unclear if canvassers were simply confused about existing ordinance language. In other videos canvassers promised things to voters that were not mentioned in writing on the petition. For example, one video shows a canvasser promising a woman it would "appoint a coordinator to oversee [officers] activities for accountability purposes." When the woman asks for more information before signing, the canvasser walks away, replying "okay, well you’re going to have to look for that online."
FOX 7 Austin asked Mackowiak if Save Austin Now misled voters to garner signatures. He said "no," adding, "When you sign something, you're responsible for what you sign. Every person that had a petition, clipboard, had a full petition there. Nothing that [canvassers] said is not accurate and nothing that they've put in the video is not accurate."
In one cellphone video Naranjo can be heard asking a canvasser to point out language about de-escalation training on the petition. The canvasser spent several moments searching for the information, before replying "My manager is the one that told me about the de-escalation training, so I'm gonna have to get him to point that out to me specifically because I can't find it."
FOX 7 Austin asked Mackowiak "are the people who solicit signatures, are they given a script? Who are they given a script by and are they paid?"
He replied, "I’m done talking about that issue."
When pressed, Mackowiak responded, "We use volunteers, and we use canvassers, I'm not going to get into exactly how we do campaigns. We follow every rule, every law, every time."
When again asked if canvassers are given a script, Mackowiak walked out of the interview stating "We do provide information to everyone that has, that everyone collects petitions with. I'm done here, Shannon. Are we set? Take care. Thanks."
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