AUSTIN — Amid a tumultuous two-year public safety disaster in Texas’ capital city, Austin’s local police chief is sounding the alarm on the current situation at the gutted police department.

“I’ve had individual meetings with each council member to explain the dire situation we are in,” said APD Interim Chief Joseph Chacon at a recent luncheon. “And I’m going to call it a crisis, because that’s what it is, and they all get it.”

Last year, the Democrat-run Austin City Council, urged by local anti-law enforcement activist groups, defunded the Austin Police Department by a whopping one-third ($150 million). Since then, APD has been forced to disband multiple units (including DWI, family violence safety and stalking, and criminal interdiction), cancel multiple cadet classes, and watch a growing wave of officers leave the force.

On the streets, Chacon said 911 response times are “dramatically” slower, and violent crime has already surged to record numbers in 2021.

“We’ve never really seen [that level] here before,” he said, referring to the rising number of homicides.

Chacon said the department is losing 15-20 officers a month, and their understaffing is “not sustainable.” He projected 235 vacancies by May 2022 and 340 by May 2023.

One local citizen group is currently petitioning Democrat-run city hall to restore the dismantled department.

Save Austin Now, a citizen group formed after the council’s contentious and harmful homelessness decision in 2019, is currently leading a petition campaign to get a proposed city public safety law onto the November election ballot.

If approved by Austin voters, the law would introduce some reforms to the Austin Police Department and add new officers to the short-staffed crew, requiring a staffing of two police officers per 1,000 citizens—the nationally recognized “Safe City Standard” defined by the U.S. Justice Department.

“Austin doesn’t feel as safe recently. Because it isn’t,” the group wrote on their website. “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.”

“As Austin’s crime rate has soared, the federal government has taken note of it and sent in resources to help stabilize the chaos,” the group added. “But we cannot rely on the federal government’s Operation Undaunted to provide us with the local resources we’ll need to fight this trend: We’ll have to do it ourselves.”

Last week, Austin City Manager Spencer Cronk presented the city council with a preliminary budget for next year, putting money back into the police department. It is likely that the move was partially in response to a new state law that punishes city governments that defund the police.

Additionally, in a recent press conference, Save Austin Now members said city hall’s initial response is “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.”

The petition so far has more than 18,000 signatures; it needs 7,000 more by July 20.

“Our city has never been less safe, and we must turn the tide on the policies that caused it.”

Jacob Asmussen

Jacob Asmussen is a Senior Journalist for Texas Scorecard. He attended the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor and in 2017 earned a double major in public relations and piano performance.