AUSTIN, Texas - Former Travis County Sheriff Terry Keel is asking Governor Greg Abbott and state legislators to remove Austin City Council’s authority over the Austin Police Department.
Instead, Keel suggests reassigning APD as a stand-alone division within the Texas Department of Public Safety.
“So really, the key question you have to ask yourself here is, does it make more sense to continue having the Austin Police Department chief answer to the City Manager or would it make more sense to have the chief of the Austin Police Department answer to the director of the Department of Public Safety?” Keel asked.
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Keel has already made up his mind about that. He said Austin police should no longer have to answer to City Council. “The local government's duty is to provide for the public safety, but they haven’t even done no harm. They’ve actually done harm to the public safety with the policies they implemented and it’s jeopardized the police department,” said Keel.
“I’m asking the governor and the legislature to realize that this is out of control, that the citizens of Austin need help,” he added.
Keel cites council's changes to policies regarding the homeless population, the discussion about defunding part of the police budget, as well as restraining police use of force as some examples of ways Austin leaders have started to “destroy” the department.
Last week, both Councilman Greg Casar and Mayor Steve Adler addressed those claims.
“We’re not going to abandon or defund the police here in Austin,” said Adler during Thursday’s council meeting discussion on police policies.
“It’s about time for us to really accelerate our path towards transforming policing in our city and we are hearing from people who are upset for good reason,” Casar said prior to that meeting.
Keel believes investigating deadly police use of force could be better handled by the Attorney General's office. The attorney and former state representative said it wouldn't be difficult for lawmakers to reassign APD oversight. Under his plan, the department would be funded by a portion of the city's sales tax revenue.
“This is the simplest legal thing that could ever be done. It’s a simple legislative fix, which is, the legislature would just come in and say, ‘The City of Austin is no longer politically over the Austin Police Department. That is going to be governed by the commission of the Department of Public Safety,’” said Keel.
Keel's proposal, posted last week on Quorum Report, led to an online petition that has garnered support from more than 2,750 people. However, the governor has yet to address it and the next legislative session is still about six months away.
“If that police department's destroyed, which it’s on the path to being destroyed, that will affect the entire State of Texas and Austin will never be the same,” Keel said.
The governor’s and mayor’s office did not reply to requests for comment on this story.
The Austin Police Association said they would be concerned about impacts to the pension system. Keel said pensions would remain intact and be covered by tax revenue.