AUSTIN — After a record killing spree and violent crime binge on the streets of Texas’ capital city, local citizens have voted to turn down a proposal to restore law enforcement to their town.
In Tuesday’s election, Austin voters overwhelmingly rejected Proposition A, the contentious citizen-organized public safety proposal that would have reformed and added adequate police officers to the severely shorthanded department. Specifically, among several reforms, the proposal would have enacted the nationally recognized “Safe City Standard” of two officers per 1,000 citizens. The proposal was defeated 68-32 percent, as of the latest numbers Wednesday morning. Less than 22 percent of eligible Travis County voters cast a ballot in the election.
The citizen public safety campaign came after a tumultuous year of crime in the city, tracing back to when the Democrat-run Austin City Council unanimously voted in August 2020 to defund the APD by up to $150 million (one-third of their budget) and cancel three police cadet training academies. That decision sparked a catastrophic series of events: APD lost hundreds of officers, disbanded numerous units, has “dramatically slower” 911 response times, and most recently, is no longer dispatching officers to numerous 911 calls.
On the streets, homicides and other crimes broke out. In September, Austin had already witnessed the most killings in a year in city history, but now the body count is far higher than last year’s all-time record of 48 homicides in a year. (So far in 2021, there have been nearly 80 homicides.)
“Austin implemented one of the biggest police budget cuts. Their homicide rate soared over the next year, and today the surge is larger than most of the country,” wrote Zaid Jilani, author of a recent Fox News article on the situation.
“We are now at 1,540 available police officers, down from 1,959 authorized strength and 1,800 available just two years ago,” said Matt Mackowiak, co-founder of citizen group Save Austin Now, the leader of the Proposition A effort. “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.”
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. Though Austin city officials responded by recently “refunding” the department in next year’s city budget, citizen activists have said city hall’s response was “wholly inaccurate” and may not actually address the public safety needs in the department and the city.
As far as Proposition A, the election fight this fall featured leftists and other out-of-state mega-donors such as far-left New York billionaire George Soros, who stepped in to pour hundreds of thousands of dollars against the citizen-led proposal, including posting grossly misleading signs throughout the city.
“Why? Who benefits from chaos and why is New York money trying to keep our city on this trajectory?” wrote Save Austin Now.
The city council and anti-Proposition A campaigns also made deceptive claims about the proposal’s cost.
“It’s so rich that when we’re asking for the same number of police officers we had two years ago. … Now, they’re complaining there isn’t enough money,” Save Austin Now’s Mackowiak said last month.
However, on Tuesday, citizens ultimately rejected Proposition A.
“Tonight was a setback, but we are not defeated,” Mackowiak tweeted Tuesday night, vowing to “triple our commitment to making Austin a great place to live, work & raise a family.”
We thought a majority of the people in this city were going to demand that we have an adequately staffed police department. We thought they would demand more training, more community policing, and significant reforms. In the end, they were convinced by the other side that this is something the city cannot afford, that this is something that the city doesn’t need, and that everything’s fine.
“The steps moving forward are up to the Mayor & City Council to get much needed cadet academy classes going & start the rebuilding for the future of the Austin Police Department,” wrote the Austin Police Association in a statement. “We kept hearing Mayor [Steve Adler] & council members say the budget already exists to hire 300 more officers, so let’s get to work and get the process moving forward.”