AUSTIN, Texas - Gov. Greg Abbott is considering a proposal for the state to take over the Austin Police Department after the Austin City Council voted to defund the department last month.
Abbott wrote on Twitter that the proposal is one strategy he is looking at.
"This proposal for the state to takeover the Austin Police Department is one strategy I'm looking at," he wrote. "We can't let Austin's defunding & disrespect for law enforcement to endanger the public & invite chaos like in Portland and Seattle."
This comes after he, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, and Texas House Speaker Dennis Bonnen held a press conference in mid-August to announce a legislative proposal to discourage cities from following Austin's lead and defunding law enforcement.
The proposal stated that any city in the state that defunds police departments will have property tax rates frozen at their current level. “Cities that endanger residents by reducing law enforcement should not then be able to turn around and go back and get more property tax dollars," Abbott said at the time.
Back in August, Austin City Council announced that it would be cutting $150 million from the Austin Police Department's budget. The total approved APD budget will be about $290 million, down from the $434 million in the proposed budget.
Austin Mayor Steve Adler held his own press conference after the Governor's announcement, outlining the Austin City Council's actions and separating the changes into three buckets.
Bucket 1 involves immediate reductions and reinvestments to a total of $21.5 million. Three cadet classes will be delayed and unfilled positions and overtime will be cut.
"We cut about $20 million from the police budget, about 4 percent, about the same that I understand the governor requested be cut from the DPS budget last session," Adler said. "That $20 million was to have more money to spend to get people out of tents and into homes because our police shouldn't be spending so much of their time being social workers."
The cuts would then be reallocated in the following ways:
- $5 million for increased EMS capacity
- $2 million for shelter for domestic violence victims
- $1 million for mental health responders
- $6.5 million for housing people without homes
- $2 million for violence prevention programs
Bucket 2 involves moving some APD duties out of APD to the tune of $80 million, including:
- $13 million to separate the forensics lab
- $18 million to integrate 911 with Austin 311
- $33 million for administrative services
- $5 million to move Internal Affairs
"[Bucket 2] was to move certain functions to civilian control and independent status," Adler said. "No function was ended. No function was reduced. The City Council voted to not take a penny away from any of these functions."
Bucket 3 addresses "reimagining" certain services in APD. A review process will look at services like mounted patrol, traffic enforcement, academy training, recruiting, park and lake patrol, and loud noise monitoring and see if those services need to be performed by an officer.
"These were not cuts, these were not things removed from the police department," Adler said. "In fact, there was no decision as to if, whether or not these functions should be changed, but we have started the work taking a look at those functions."
The proposal for the state of Texas to take over APD comes from former Travis County Sheriff Terry Keel asking Governor Greg Abbott and state legislators to remove Austin City Council’s authority over the Austin Police Department back in June.
Instead, Keel suggested 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.
Keel cited the 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.
“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 on Quorum Report, has led to an online petition that has garnered support from almost 22,000 people as of Sept. 3.