A little less than a week ago, blue Austin made itself a laughingstock across the rest of Texas. The all-Democrat city council and its leftwing Mayor Steve Adler voted unanimously to chop $150 million out of the city’s $434 million dollar budget. That’s a cut of one third.
Austin did this as the WSJ revealed that the fast-growing city of about a million leads the nation in the percentage increase of homicides in 2020. Yes, its rate of increase is worse even than New York and Chicago.
Austin recently billed itself as safe. It can no longer honestly say that it is.
The cuts are draconian, and the nature of the cuts is nonsensical. For instance, the council voted to do away with the mounted unit. That unit has been very effective at establishing order when rioters illegally take over city streets, without having to resort to more kinetic means of clearing thoroughfares.
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Austin’s former police chief, Art Acevedo, sounded off after the vote and warned of “consequences” for taking so many police officers off the streets and so many useful assets away from those officers who remain. He called on residents to rise up and oppose the cuts.
“If you don’t speak up now,” Acevedo said during an interview with the city’s CBS affiliate after the vote last week. “If you don’t speak up and absolutely set on fire those phone lines, the emails, the letters to your mayor and council, standby to standby. The economic engine that drives that great city, that provides the quality parks, the quality libraries, the quality life that we’ve enjoyed, I say we because I still have property there, is going to go by the wayside.”
Acevedo is merely previewing for Austin what’s already happening in Seattle, which has also defunded police and abandoned its first duty, public safety. The rioters didn’t go away there, but businesses are starting to. Austin has put itself on track to become Portland, where unchecked rioters beat up random citizens and attack police with impunity.
Acevedo also noted a promise the city council broke. The city paid $150,000 on a study that, according to Acevedo, found that Austin needs hundreds more officers. The council promised to do a five-year plan to get there. Now, responding to far-left activists and other agitators, the city council has reneged on that and drastically cut police funding instead.
For his part, Mayor Steve Adler has gone on a reactive media offensive that isn’t helping. He can’t decide whether he and the council have moved the police funding into three buckets or four, but insists that slashing funding (and possibly demolishing police headquarters, as council member Jimmy Flannigan suggests) will somehow make the city safer. There is literally no evidence to support this position. According to Acevedo, the city’s own study suggested otherwise.
Evidence is building that the city council’s attitude will hurt policing more than they realize. One officer tells PJ Media that retirements and departures will speed up dramatically. Their work conditions are already difficult. The city council’s disrespectful vote was the last straw for many. Some are already submitting their paperwork to leave. Others, the officer says, are waiting until the end of the year. Their minds are made up.
APD will see a massive brain and experience drain, and the council’s vote also cut three cadet classes, so any infusion of new energy will be delayed. Some officers who moved to Austin from Chicago PD are even deciding that they have had enough. They’re seeking other, lower-paying jobs away from Austin, or even going back to Chicago. Potential recruits will take Austin off their list as long as this city council and mayor remain in office. The effects will be far-reaching for years to come.
The president of the Fort Worth Police Officer Association concurs, telling local WFAA TV that officers all over are punching out.
“We see officers walking out the door, we’ve had more police officers retire this year at this point than we have in the last 30 years,” Fort Worth Police Officer Association President Manny Ramirez said. “Just last year, we saw a 60% decrease in the number of applications around the nation to become police officers and we know it’s going to be far worse this year.”
That’s in Fort Worth, which backs the blue. Austin has seen similar numbers. After the defunding vote it’s now going to get worse.
Acevedo, who left Austin to head Houston’s police department, is now in a city that not only did not defund its police, it increased funding. Fort Worth did as well. Oddly enough, neither city has seen much unrest over the past two months, while Austin has had rioters attempt to take over police headquarters on one occasion and attempt to set up an “autonomous zone” on another. APD stopped them both times. Austin is also the only city in Texas to see a riot go fatal, when rioters took over a street and surrounded the car of an Uber driver and Army sergeant who turned out to be armed and aware of how the state’s castle doctrine works.
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott appeared with Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and other leaders including Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price Tuesday to address Austin’s defunding its police. Gov. Abbott proposed legislation that would freeze any city from being able to increase property taxes until it restores funding to satisfy the proposed law.
There will be sausage-making when the legislature convenes in January 2021. It’s impossible to predict at this point exactly what the law, if one passes, will look like. There may be more than one. Austin’s batty brand of leftism makes it a frequent target of the more conservative legislature. The lege will have more ideas for punishing it next year.
Former Travis County Sheriff Terry Keel, for instance, has proposed taking APD away from the city entirely and putting it under the state Department of Public Safety. Former Mayor Lee Leffingwell has endorsed Flannigan’s opponent in November, Mackenzie Kelly of Take Back Austin. Everyone seems to recognize that Austin has a problem, other than those elected to set budget and policy and the fringe activists they listen to.
Today’s move by the state’s top leaders suggests they have a galvanizing issue at a time when they might have gone into session more divided. Austin’s move has probably taken Texas off the map for the Democrats in the upcoming presidential election.
“Don’t mess with Texas” extends to keeping the peace in its communities, and no Democrat here or anywhere else has shown the wisdom to stand up for that. Beto O’Rourke is the face of the Biden campaign here, and he’s now among the least popular pols in the state, wildly out of touch after failing to finish the first lap in his run for the White House.
If Austin were a bar crawler on its infamous Sixth Street, the governor and the rest of Texas just put a hand on its shoulder and said “Austin, you’re drunk. Give us the keys so we can get you home safely.”