Gov. Abbott to consider moving Austin police under state oversight
AUSTIN, Texas - Gov. Greg Abbott said he will consider a proposal to move the Austin Police Department under state control.
On Thursday, in a tweet he wrote, "This proposal for the state to takeover the Austin Police Department is one strategy I'm looking at. We can't let Austin's defunding & disrespect for law enforcement to endanger the public & invite chaos like in Portland and Seattle."
This is the governor's most recent plan to fight back against Austin City Council's decision to cut millions from the police budget. The governor's office simply said "stay tuned" when asked for more information.
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Fox 7 Austin reported on the proposal drafted by former Travis County Sheriff Terry Keel in June.
“I’m asking the governor and the legislature to realize that this is out of control, that the citizens of Austin need help," Keel said about drafting the proposal.
In current form, the plan would make APD a standalone division of Texas DPS. The department, including pensions, would be funded by a portion of the city's sales tax revenue.
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The former sheriff and former state representative said it would be a simple fix by legislators in order to "rescue Austin" from city council. Whether moving APD oversight is a possibility is still up for debate.
"I think there’s such a thing as a constitution and political subdivisions are carved out in that... And it will most certainly be challenged by every political subdivision that will be fearful of being taken over by the state in a political maneuver," said Charley Wilkison, executive director of CLEAT, Texas' largest police union.
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Austin Police Association President Ken Casaday said he's thankful state lawmakers are considering all options to help APD following the city's decision to cut the police budget. In a statement, Casaday said, "There’s a lot to work out and we will be working with legislators to see what the possibilities are.”
The APA president explained he feels backed into a corner by council members. During the meet and confer process, the city council said instead of increasing officer salaries they wanted to use the funds to hire additional officers, Casaday explained. However, now those same council members are not only not hiring additional officers, but are also cutting 150 officer positions from the department.
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Wilkison said he can foresee some issues with a change in oversight.
"State troopers don’t have collective bargaining, they don’t have meet and confer, they don’t have civil service, the standards aren’t the same to hire them," said Wilkison.
Mayor Steve Adler replied to the governor's tweet with a statement that reads, “Austin is the safest big city in Texas and one of the safest in the country. Public safety is our priority and we support our police. We’re also always looking for ways for everyone to be even more safe. Not surprising the President’s rhetoric is finding its way to Texas as we get closer to November.”
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Wilkison said it's misleading for city council to act like they were solving problems with recent efforts to remove part of APD's budget when they already had the ability to make police reforms.
"The whole erroneous, false narrative that police officers recruited themselves, screened themselves criminally, hired themselves, trained themselves and then began to patrol the streets of Austin because they just wanted... No, the mayor and the council had 100 percent control over hiring standards, structure, the general order... That all belongs to them,” Wilkison said.
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The executive director of CLEAT said this ongoing war between the city council and the governor is not helping anyone. "So, the facts are that neither side is really correct. And who’s going to suffer? Well, public safety is gonna suffer. If you cut enough cadet classes, if you defund enough positions, then crime will rise. We do know that for a fact," said Wilkison.
Austin would not be the first city police department to be moved under state control in the U.S. It happened to the Baltimore Police Department in the late 1800s.