After recent riots swept the nation and left behind a trail of burned cities, destroyed livelihoods, and murdered citizens, Austin City Council members are now pushing to significantly defund local police and even demolish their headquarters.
This week, three councilmembers—two Democrats and one self-proclaimed Democratic Socialist—proposed cutting out various parts of the Austin Police Department, with the stated goal of ultimately removing at least $100 million, a quarter of the budget, from the already understaffed force.
In the initial proposed city budget for next year, City Manager Spencer Cronk cut 100 vacant sworn police positions and delayed the July 2020 cadet class, but now councilmembers are adding in their own ideas. Councilmembers Leslie Pool and Socialist Greg Casar proposed cuts that include removing money from previously scheduled police cadet classes, closing the police academy for a year, cutting the department’s overtime budget, and cutting the bomb squad’s budget.
The council would take most of the money and spend it elsewhere on social services, and Casar said when the council finishes coming up with all of their police cuts, “we can reach an over $100 million change in the police budget toward progressive change.”
Councilmember Jimmy Flannigan, however, took his colleagues’ ideas even further—saying they should also demolish the police building downtown.
“We should expedite the demolition of the APD Headquarters by directing the City Manager to move all remaining APD staff out of the existing headquarters building and into other underutilized city facilities,” Flannigan wrote to a council message board on Monday. He added the property should instead be used in part to “address historic economic inequities in the black community.”
Flannigan’s November re-election opponent, native Austinite Mackenzie Kelly, called the demolition proposal “unthinkable and reckless” in light of violent crime that has recently risen in the city.
“Nothing is more symbolic of recent efforts to defund the police than this scheme to demolish Austin Police Headquarters,” said Kelly. “If anyone for even a second thinks that these proposals are designed to save money or increase accountability, remember that Jimmy Flannigan is now proposing swinging a wrecking ball at the very heart of law and order in our city. A majority of our city wants to preserve law and order, and we can do better than Flannigan in November.”
Current and retired police officers also reacted to the councilmembers’ proposals. Former officer Dennis Farris, who’s on the board of the Austin Police Retired Officers Association, called Pool’s idea about cutting the bomb squad “incredibly irresponsible” and said it leaves the community less safe, especially given the fact that Austin faced a serial bomber as recently as 2018.
“I think their memory is really short of something that happened about a little over two years ago. The city was terrorized for 19 days by a guy that was putting package bombs on people’s porches, mailing them to them, leaving them on the side of the road,” said Farris. “Well, who do you think goes and defuses those things? It’s the bomb squad.”
The council’s ideas also drew attention from national officials, including Texas Congressman Chip Roy, who represents part of the Central Texas area.
“It’s time to take Austin back from the radical Marxists,” Roy tweeted.
The council is scheduled to continue discussing the upcoming city budget and police cuts through August, including meetings on July 30, August 4, and August 6, with the budget adoption processing beginning on August 12.
Concerned citizens can contact the city council.