AUSTIN — Amid a tumultuous two-year public safety disaster in Texas’ capital city, citizens are continuing to resist their city officials’ destructive decisions—this time by seeking to restore a dismantled police department.

Save Austin Now, a recently formed local citizen group, is currently leading a petition campaign to get a proposed city public safety law onto the November election ballot.

The law, if approved by Austin voters, would introduce some reforms to the Austin Police Department and add new officers to the short-staffed crew.

The law would include requiring a staffing of two police officers per 1,000 citizens, which is the nationally recognized “Safe City Standard” defined by the U.S. Justice Department; boosting additional post-cadet training hours per year; and providing incentives for officers who don’t have public complaints.

The petition effort is only citizens’ latest public safety campaign to stop dangerous decisions 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 (violent crime rose by double digits in 2020 and has already surged to record numbers this year).

Last year, the council also 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.

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.

“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.”

SAN also noted that Austin is “now far and away the least staffed [police] department,” with the number of officers currently down to the mid-2000s and expected to drop to the mid-1990s by the end of the year. Average 911 response times are now more than 13 minutes, twice as long as in 2011.

“If you can imagine how it feels to wait that long for help, you can see why so many Austinites are at the end of their rope with City Council’s recent policy decisions,” SAN said.

“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.”

The group’s co-founder, Matt Mackowiak, said they’ve so far collected more than 9,000 petition signatures. They need 16,000 more by July 20.

“There is much work to be done, and our petition to restore safety to Austin is a critical first step,” the group wrote.

“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.

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