AUSTIN (KXAN) — As early voting across the state begins on Monday, including in Austin and Travis County at large, one of the propositions voters will see on the ballot is already causing division.
The highly controversial “Prop A” would increase police staffing in Austin to a minimum of two officers per 1,000 people, in addition to doubling required training for officers, increase minority hiring and require 35% of officer shifts be spent through community policing.
Prop A is estimated to cost Austin up to $598 million over the next five years. It’s important to note, since the state of Texas caps how much cities can increase tax rates, Prop A’s funds would have to come from elsewhere.
AGAINST PROP A
Opposition to the proposition resulted in the launch of No Way on Prop A, a coalition of over 80 groups that has advocated against what they say is a “dangerous” and “fiscally irresponsible” measure.
“No Way on Prop A” is made up of several labor unions and other Austin organizations, including Austin Justice Coalition and the Travis County Democratic Party. Organizers argue that not only is Prop A misrepresentative of crime statistics in Austin, they say it’s a reversal of several changes made to city policing over the past year.
“Prop A is a wolf in sheep’s clothing,” reads No Way’s website. “…This is not the training the community has demanded. This is more-of-the-same warrior-like policing, not reform.”
The Austin Police Department’s 2021-22 budget was a record $442 million. Prop A’s multi-million-dollar price tag could be in addition to APD’s next approved budget. Opponents worry the big increase would be at the expense of community resources like public libraries and mental health services.
Prop A opponents argue City of Austin money would be better spent doing harm reduction and community enhancements like recovery programs and housing for the homeless.
“If Prop A passes, all of these services will be on the chopping block. We’re talking about neighborhood public libraries, neighborhood swimming pools, mental health services,” said Austin City Council Member Vanessa Fuentes.
No Way says true police reform “requires more thought and attention than Prop A’s “more of the same” approach. It’s worked to reduce violence in other cities, and it can work in Austin.”
FOR PROP A
Prop A’s journey onto the November ballot was all because of petitioning by Save Austin Now, a political action committee made up of advocates wanting increased policing in Austin after what it says is a spike in crime.
The nonprofit collected over 25,600 signatures in July, about one year after Austin City Council voted unanimously to incrementally transition millions of dollars from APD to other areas of public health and safety. Some, including Save Austin Now, argue this was a direct example of cities “defunding police.”
Several organizations are in support of Prop A, including the Austin Police Association, the Texas Police Association and the Texas Municipal Police Association.
“Austin has never been less safe than it is today and the police staffing crisis continues to worsen,” said SAN co-founders Matt Mackowiak and Cleo Petricek in July.
SAN says Prop A’s incentive program (including bonuses for officers with zero complaints at the end of each year) would be among several changes toward community policing reform.
The group argues that Austin’s police staffing is the lowest it’s ever been — a number it says is just not enough for the growing population.
“Prop A fixes this by requiring the city to hire and maintain more officers and to rapidly catch up to the number of officers we have lost or fired when city council defunded the police in 2019. We’re 320 officers short of where we were then, and we’re already seeing the impact,” SAN’s website reads.
Save Austin Now also says Prop A is only estimated to cost $54 million per year. Petricek says the city’s cost estimate is inaccurate.
“Unfortunately there are bald-faced lies being told to us that properly re-staffing and better training our police would lead to “closing parks and libraries,” reads the Austin Prop A website. “That’s just fear-mongering and it’s very, very unfortunate to see being said by the No campaign.”
“Austin will become the first major city to overturn defund the police through a citizen vote. Our city supports law enforcement, even if City Hall does not, SAN said previously. “Our message to Steve Adler and Greg Casar is this: November is coming.”
Written by Russell Falcon