Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) announced legislation to “defund cities that defund their police” and also signed a pledge backing the blue during a press conference Thursday at the headquarters of the Austin Police Association. He urged all Texans and all candidates for office to sign the pledge as well.
A fiery Gov. Abbott, flanked by departing state House Speaker Dennis Bonnen (R) and state Attorney General Ken Paxton (R), announced legislation that would penalize cities that defund their police departments in two ways. Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick was not present, as he was attending another law enforcement event in Harris County.
According to Gov. Abbott, the first penalty would be to “forever” remove that city’s ability to annex territory. The second penalty would allow residents of areas that have ever been annexed by a city that has defunded its police to vote to be disannexed from that city. Abbott said the legislation’s details would be determined during the 2021 Texas legislative session, such as what level of cut to a police department’s budget would trigger the penalties.
Abbott also referred to a previous proposal he announced in August that would freeze property taxes for cities that defund police. He said together the proposals would make it “financially impossible” for cities to defund police. He added it would “leave Austin with no choice but to restore the cuts they’ve already made to law enforcement.” The governor did not discuss a proposal by former Travis County Sheriff and Texas legislator Terry Keel to remove APD from the city’s authority and place it under the state, but has previously signaled that he is examining that option.
In addition to the elected officials, APA President Ken Cassaday, President of Austin Police Women’s Association Melanie Rodriguez, Texas Peace Officers Association President Michael Rhone, and Elvie Johns, wife of an Austin police officer, all spoke at the press conference, strongly backing efforts to block cities from defunding police.
Rodriguez blasted Austin’s city council for its actions during the worst of Austin’s riots and its defunding vote last month.
“Our local leaders sat in the comfort and safety of their homes conducting Zoom meetings to reimagine public safety,” Rodriguez said. She called for Austin voters to “reimagine” the city council by defeating the ones up for re-election this year. She blasted the council’s vote to cut incoming police cadet classes and called the rioting “disgusting.”
Rhone called for police reforms and an end to police racism and brutality but categorically said “Defunding is not an option.”
Johns said defunding is “canceling” police and “defunding police means defunding our communities.”
Austin’s Mayor Steve Adler and its city council, all Democrats, voted to cut $150 million from the Austin Police Department’s budget in August, defunding its police department by about one-third. PJ Media detailed some of those cuts this week. Wednesday night, the Dallas city council followed Austin’s lead and defunded its own police department, but its cut was more modest than Austin’s. Dallas cut $7 million from the police overtime budget.
Cities including Austin, San Antonio, and Dallas, which are mostly controlled by Democrats, have grown over recent years, adding to their tax bases, by annexing territory often against the residents’ will to be annexed. The Republican-controlled Texas legislature curbed that power by allowing residents to vote on whether they want to be annexed or not. Gov. Abbott’s new proposal, should it pass, could give residents who disagree with defunding police a powerful means of taking control of their community’s safety and blocking cities from gobbling up territory around them. Polls show that an overwhelming majority of Americans of all backgrounds oppose defunding their police departments.
Dallas Police Chief Renee Hall announced her resignation this week, ahead of the vote but after city council members criticized her handling of protests and unrest in the city this summer. Hall is one of many police chiefs quitting or retiring in the wake of this summer’s riots and city councils’ voting to defund their departments. Austin City council members have tried to bully APD Chief Brian Manley into quitting after they discovered they cannot fire him.
Austin’s and Dallas’ defunding actions are prompting other counter actions. The Texas Municipal Police Association this week put up billboards along I-35 north and south of Austin that read: Warning! Austin Police Defunded. Enter At Your Own Risk!
Gov. Abbott introduced his #TexasBacksTheBlue pledge in a tweet Wednesday. It trended on Twitter Thursday after the press conference.