AUSTIN — Amid a tumultuous two-year public safety disaster in Texas’ capital city, tens of thousands of citizens are moving forward in their campaign to #MakeAustinSafe.
In a press release on Monday, citizen group Save Austin Now announced they had successfully submitted their latest petition—with more than 25,600 signatures—to city hall. If validated, the petition will place a proposed public safety law on the ballot in the November election.
The law, if approved by Austin voters, would introduce some reforms to the Austin Police Department (such as boosting additional post-cadet training hours per year and providing incentives for officers who don’t have public complaints) and also add new officers to the short-staffed crew (requiring two police officers per 1,000 citizens, the nationally recognized “Safe City Standard” defined by the U.S. Justice Department).
The petition effort is only citizens’ latest attempt to stop dangerous citywide decisions made by the Democrat-run city hall.
The story began in 2019 when the Austin City Council legalized unrestrained homeless camping in nearly all public spaces (except city hall, notably). The move incited a chaotic saga of tent cities along sidewalks and neighborhoods, a drastic surge of the city’s homeless population, a wildfire of public backlash, and a more dangerous public environment.
Then, last year, the council controversially defunded the local police department by a whopping one-third ($150 million), forcing numerous police units such as DWI, family violence safety and stalking, and criminal interdiction to disband.
Since both of the council’s decisions, violent crime has surged to record numbers in 2020 and 2021, and the understaffed police department has, according to the APD chief, deteriorated into a “dire situation”—a growing wave of officers leaving the force, “dramatically slower” 911 response times, and hundreds of expected officer vacancies.
During the homelessness disaster and police defunding, citizens of all parties united to form Save Austin Now to fight back against city officials’ harmful actions. After a long grassroots petition campaign, Austinites voted in May to restore the city’s original public camping rules.
Now, SAN’s efforts are focused on restoring law enforcement.
“We’ve seen a series of city policy decisions over the last 2 years that have led to a surge in both violent crime and property crime against Austinites. A 300% increase in murders this year. A double-digit increase in property crimes such as burglaries and carjackings,” the group wrote on its website.
“We are thrilled to ensure our ballot position for the Nov. 2, 2021, election,” said SAN co-founders Matt Mackowiak and Cleo Petricek in a joint statement on Monday. “Austin has never been less safe than it is today and the police staffing crisis continues to worsen. In just 107 days, 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. Our message to [Mayor] Steve Adler and [Council Member] Greg Casar is this: November is coming.”