AUSTIN — “Defund the police” fallout continues for citizens in Texas’ capital city: police officers now won’t come to respond to your “non-emergency” calls, such as burglary or a home invasion.
As Texas Scorecard reported earlier this week, the Austin Police Department will no longer dispatch an officer to your need if 1) the incident is no longer in progress, 2) the suspect or people involved are no longer on the scene, and 3) the incident is no longer “life-threatening.”
On Wednesday, APD Chief Joseph Chacon also outlined specific types of calls that may no longer be answered, unless there is a immediate or in-progress threat:
- Attempted theft of property
- Burglary of residence, business or vehicle
- Crashes between vehicles if they don’t require a tow, there are no injuries, both drivers have proof of insurance and a driver’s license and neither driver is impaired
- Verbal disturbances
- Suspicious person or vehicle
- Animal services
Austinites will be redirected to 311 for a civilian employee response and non-emergency report.
Chief Chacon said the decision came amid severe staffing shortages, and the news for Austinites comes as the latest consequence of the Austin City Council’s decision to defund the department.
Last year, the Democrat-run council unanimously voted to defund APD by up to $150 million (one-third of their budget) and cancel three police cadet training academies. Since then, the department has lost hundreds of officers and disbanded numerous units, including some related to DWI, family violence safety and stalking, and criminal interdiction.
Meanwhile, a killing spree is happening on the streets. 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 months still remaining in 2021.
The crisis in Texas’ capital city even prompted the state Legislature earlier this year to approve a law that punishes city governments that defund the police. In response, Austin city officials recently “refunded” the department in next year’s city budget, but community members have called their action “wholly inaccurate” and claim it may not actually address the public safety needs in the department and city—such as the current backlogged staff shortage and now less-responsive 911.
“This is such a breakdown of what citizens should expect of their local [government],” tweeted local attorney Adam Loewy in response to the latest 911 call news. “Shame on [Mayor Steve Adler] for not standing up against this defunding nonsense.”
“Not enough police. [District Attorney] dismissing cases left and right. APD telling people to call 311. Doesn’t take a genius to think about what criminals must be thinking. And doing,” Loewy added.
“Burglary of a residence? Auto theft? Somebody breaks into my home and I’m told I’m an inconvenience if I call the police? Insane,” wrote Austin attorney Tony McDonald.
“More taxes and less service/public safety. The priorities of this city council and mayor continue to be embarrassing,” added citizen Brian Moreland.
“I’m all for reform but there is a difference between reform and letting stuff run amok,” another individual commented.
Furthermore, Joell McNew, president of student safety advocacy group SafeHorns, said the stunted 911 dispatch also particularly endangers citizens at the University of Texas.
“What’s concerning to us is the crimes that they’re talking about many times are what impact our students [and surrounding neighborhoods],” McNew said.
While the council has subsequently walked back some of those budget cuts, the backlog they created won’t disappear overnight.
Furthermore, while APD has resumed cadet classes, the city’s new police training materials show far more interest in promoting racist ideologies rather than public safety.
Austinites do have an opportunity to vote to restore police funding this fall, as citizen group Save Austin Now recently completed another petition campaign (with more than 25,000 signatures) to put a proposed public safety law on the November ballot. The proposal would reform and restore adequate officer staffing to APD (specifically, the nationally recognized “Safe City Standard” of two police officers per 1,000 citizens).
“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 this month. “We will be at 1998 police staffing levels by the end of the year, when our city was 25 percent as large as we are today.”
“Austin has NEVER been less safe than it is today. But we can change that.”
Between now and the November election, concerned citizens may contact their city council member.