AUSTIN, Texas - An internal document shared confidentially with FOX 7 Austin indicates several specialized units within the Austin Police Department could be dissolved as early as August 1.
Units listed in the document include:
- Criminal interdiction
- District representatives, or ‘community police’
- Crisis intervention
- "Crash", a family violence victim safety and stalking task force
- Lake Patrol
- Commercial vehicle enforcement
- Vehicle abatement
- Metropolitan Tactical Team - C
- Patrol K9
- ARIC / Strategic Intelligence
- Mounted Patrol
Ken Casaday, president of the Austin Police Association, told FOX 7 Austin the department has long been in talks about dissolving the units listed, but he could not verify that they would be dissolved on August 1 as the document states.
"This is part of the defunding, people like to call it ‘reimagining’ we call it defunding," he said, referring to a 2020 decision by Austin City Council to cut up to $150 million from the police department. The cut is approximately 34 percent of the department's budget. More than $20 million previously dedicated to overtime and cadet classes was cut immediately.
A reduction of 150 Austin Police Department positions and reductions to the overtime budget left the department unable to backfill overtime. Former Austin Police Chief Brian Manley said that "necessitated the need to actually move officers back into patrol" from specialized units.
"Some [officers] probably will retire and some of them probably will put on a patrol uniform and get back into cars and patrol different areas of town. Their priority is answering our 911 calls, but believe me, the city sadly will pay for this in death and serious injury," said Casaday.
Wayne Vincent, a retired APD officer, said this is the "worst-case scenario."
"What the city is being forced to do because they’re at critical short handedness is pull everybody out of these critical units and put them into patrol to give the public a false perception that we’re not critically short," said Vincent
Writing on the internal document indicates the plan is subject to change. It also states the municipal court unit will be replaced with a new marshal program and the executive protection unit will be replaced with a ‘full-time equivalent.’
Casaday told FOX 7 Austin on August 1 the department will dissolve its motors unit or ‘motorcycle’ unit.
The unit is currently the largest in the state. District 6 Council Member Mackenzie Kelly also verified information about the motors unit.
"There will be long-lasting effects, years, maybe even a decade down the road," said Council Member Mackenzie Kelly.
The news comes after the announcement that on June 6 the department will be forced to dissolve its DWI unit.
Casaday says 160 officers are set to lose their specialized positions in 2021.
On May 18, Austin Police reported the city’s 42nd traffic fatality. The department said there were 36 traffic fatalities at the same time last year.
Casaday is now calling on Austin’s Interim Police Chief Joseph Chacon to call on Texas Governor Greg Abbott to have DPS Troopers fill what he says is a traffic enforcement void.
"‘Cause once people realize there’s no traffic enforcement I think you’re gonna see things go haywire," he said.
David Johnson with the Reimagining Public Safety Task Force believes the specialized units in question will not be a loss for the city.
"We as a city have operated in a way that centers police and a police response as the only option for safety and the only option for wellness," said Johnson. "Traffic enforcement is just park patrol on the roads, and park patrol is just glorified meter maids because all they do is write tickets to generate income for a punitive carceral system."
Johnson's group specifically proposed some of the exact cuts that are being done, like the motors unit.
Statistics cited in his group’s report show that less than 1% of calls APD responds to are related to violent crime.
FOX 7 Austin contacted the Austin Police Department to verify the above information.
The department provided this statement:
"The Austin Police Department is committed to ensuring a prompt response to emergency calls to 911. We continue to evaluate our patrol staffing needs and reallocate officers from specialized units to support Patrol operations as needed. Several units have been impacted by this staffing reallocation. As of August 1, the Motors unit will be temporarily suspended, and traffic enforcement will continue to be a responsibility of all APD officers. Services provided by the Motors unit such as escorts will be available, as needed. The safety of the Austin community remains our top priority."