Citizens in Texas’ capital city are again campaigning to stop city officials’ harmful decisions as homicides on the streets are now more rampant than ever recorded in history.
“Over the weekend, our city witnessed four homicides in a four hour period and we just hit 60 homicides for the year (#61 will be announced as early as today),” wrote citizen group Save Austin Now (SAN) in a press release this week. “Last year’s all-time record was 48.”
Indeed, Austin now has the most homicides in a year in the city’s history, according to records dating back to 1960—and that’s with three and a half months still remaining in 2021.
The violent crime comes amid a contentious public safety disaster, partially tracing back to last year, when the Democrat-run Austin City Council unanimously voted to defund the Austin Police Department by up to $150 million (one-third of their budget) and cancel three police cadet training academies.
Since then, APD has lost hundreds of officers and disbanded numerous units, including some related to DWI, family violence safety and stalking, and criminal interdiction. Consequently, APD Interim Chief Joseph Chacon recently said 911 response times are “dramatically slower” and the department is now in a “dire situation.”
“We are now at 1,540 available police officers, down from 1,959 authorized strength and 1,800 available just two years ago,” wrote Save Austin Now co-founder Matt Mackowiak on Wednesday.
“We will be at 1998 police staffing levels by the end of the year, when our city was 25% as large as we are today,” the group continued, noting only 4 percent of scheduled police shifts are fully staffed and that Labor Day weekend was the “worst 911 response in city history.”
“Austin has NEVER been less safe than it is today. But we can change that.”
Earlier this year, the group organized a petition campaign to override the council’s decision, proposing to reform and restore adequate officer staffing to APD (specifically, two police officers per 1,000 citizens—the nationally recognized “Safe City Standard” defined by the U.S. Justice Department).
Their proposed public safety law garnered more than 25,000 signatures and is now placed on the ballot for a citywide vote in the November election.
However, Mayor Steve Adler and fellow council members are publicly opposing the effort to restore law enforcement.
“Casar, Adler and radical left wing groups claim that going back to the same police staffing we had two years ago would require massive cuts to city services and programs. This is a scare tactic and Austin voters will not be fooled,” SAN wrote, citing that the officer staffing spending would account for only 1.4 percent of the city’s entire $4.5 billion budget.
“A city that spent $161M on homelessness the past three years and is proposing to spend $515M the next three years can commit an additional $54M annually to restore public safety to Austin. Adequately funding our police and ensuring we have a safe city for everyone should be the top priority.”
The crisis in Texas’ capital city even prompted the state Legislature to approve a law this year that punishes city governments that defund the police. Though Austin city officials responded by recently “refunding” the department in next year’s city budget, SAN members said city hall’s response was “wholly inaccurate” and may not actually address the public safety needs in the department and the city.
“We need to mandate that they hire actual police officers with the funds, not reimagine their way into continued chaos,” the group tweeted. “Hence SaveAustinNow petition requirements.”
“Steve Adler has full time protection and lives in a penthouse in a downtown hotel. He has been out of touch for many years,” they added.
Save Austin Now has already completed a similar grassroots-petition-to-city-law campaign earlier this year on the local homelessness crisis, when Austinites of both political parties voted in May to override the city council’s 2019 controversial “unrestrained camping” decision and restore the city’s public camping rules.
“[Mayor Adler’s] twin disaster of a homeless camping ordinance and an absurd defund the police budget cut have made life in Austin worse for everyone,” wrote SAN co-founder Mackowiak. “After predicting a ‘close’ election in May, he lost 58-42. In November, a majority of Austinites will raise up and demand an adequately staffed police department.”