AUSTIN, Texas - The mayor and police association are weighing in on Gov. Greg Abbott's proposal to have the state take over policing in downtown Austin.
In about six weeks, elected officials will convene at the State Capitol building for the start of the 2021 Texas legislative session. One of Abbott's priorities for lawmakers this year will be to discourage cities from defunding police departments and protect the Capital City.
“Because Austin is the capital of Texas, because there's people who come from across the state, across the country, across the entire globe to Austin, Texas, the area around the Capitol must be safe,” Abbott said during an interview with FOX 7 Austin in mid-November.
To accomplish that, the governor has proposed legislation that would freeze the property tax rate of cities who defund police departments, would allow areas annexed into a city to vote to de-annex themselves if the city chooses to defund police, and will consider possibly moving the Austin Police Department under the Texas Department of Public Safety and away from city oversight. His latest idea is to have the state police downtown Austin.
President of the Austin Police Association, Ken Casaday, said with a record number of retirements this year and three cadet classes cancelled, the department needs the help.
“You have to have officers to answer 911 calls, but what we don't have going on right now, in any fashion, is proactive policing out there, patrolling your district to make sure crime is not committed. And the reason that's happening, is those officers are answering 911 calls and writing reports,” said Casaday.
The governor's plan would establish state control between the lake and 32nd Street and I-35 to Lamar or Mopac. That stretch includes UT, the Capitol, the Governor's Mansion, and the downtown business district.
On Twitter, Mayor Steve Adler called the idea "unprecedented commandeering of local law enforcement." In a statement to FOX 7 Austin, Adler wrote,
“These kinds of proposals are designed to distract us from the truth. If crime is the motivation for floating the unprecedented commandeering of local law enforcement, it wouldn’t begin with Austin – among the safest big cities in the nation. It’s going to be a long legislative session if it’s all about rallying a political base and making us scared of one another. Our state has serious challenges with too many uninsured, inadequate funding for education, and an insufficient pandemic response. They need to be our focus.”
“The citizens of Texas have to have a safe place to do business. And the legislators have to have a place, a safe place, to do the people's business. And right now, it's not that way,” Casaday said.
A community survey conducted by the city in 2019 showed 55 percent of respondents said they do not feel safe alone downtown at night. Whether that has changed, or can be changed by increasing the number of officers downtown, has yet to be studied.