AUSTIN — “You cannot solve a public safety crisis by creating another,” Corby Jastrow, president of the Greater Austin Crime Commission, told the Austin City Council on Thursday.
After a 12-hour meeting, the city council voted unanimously to partially defund the Austin Police Department.
The council’s decision directs the city manager to halt any new sworn officer staff positions, as well as redirect money from the department’s budget and use it toward other social services. The city manager will bring back proposals to the council over the next few months as they decide specific numbers for next year’s city budget.
As far as how much to cut, some socialist and leftist groups have been petitioning the council to take away at least $100 million—a quarter—from the police department’s budget next year.
Hundreds of citizens, including some members of the Democratic Socialists of America, testified to the council on Thursday in favor of the proposal, while some voiced a public safety concern over the decision to defund.
“Explain cutting cops to the 32 murder victims last year, the 515 rape victims, the 1,063 robbery victims, the 2,267 victims of aggravated assault, and the 35,744 victims of property crime,” said Cary Roberts, executive director of the Greater Austin Crime Commission, during the council meeting.
GACC President Corby Jastrow added that aggravated assaults, property crimes, and robberies in the city were up last year, as well as violent crime in downtown and entertainment districts, an evident result of the “staffing strain” and difficult situation APD was already facing. Though he supported some of the reforms council also enacted Thursday—chokehold bans and use-of-force changes, for example—the “positive police changes are overshadowed by parts that put the community at risk.”
The council’s actions come amid nationwide riots and cries for defunding police departments in response to the unjust death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, a death the APD and countless departments across the country have strongly condemned.
Four Austin City Councilmembers have also called for Police Chief Brian Manley to resign over police response to recent protests in downtown Austin, where numerous citizens were critically injured by police’s less-lethal bean bag rounds.
Austin has also seen violence amid the protests, including Molotov cocktails, bricks, and rocks thrown at police; businesses damaged and looted, including a looting by three antifa members; and a car set ablaze downtown.
Nationwide, rioters have also destroyed citizens’ livelihoods and even killed numerous people, such as 77-year-old retired police captain David Dorn, who was gunned down by a protestor in St. Louis while trying to keep a local pawn shop from being looted.
Locally, citizens continue to be concerned with the public safety consequences of defunding the department.
“[Mayor Steve Adler], does this mean you’ll be giving up your APD security detail? Kinda hypocritical if you don’t,” wrote one citizen in response to one of the mayor’s tweets.
“How does cutting the police budget help anything? Details please. We live here and we deserve to know exactly,” another wrote. “If crime and or violence increases it will be solely your fault.”
“I ask that you please do not move forward with defunding public safety until you have time to create an action plan and resources in place,” said SafeHorns President Joelle McNew.
APD detective Issa Kafena, also a former member of Mayor Steve Adler’s security detail, agreed.
“These rushed resolutions before the council are designed to perpetuate what the council fears most—an understaffed, overworked, undertrained and unappreciated police department that will be ill-equipped to adequately protect and serve the citizens of Austin.”