Did Council cut $150M from the police? No. Did Council do something transformative? Yes.

Here’s what you should know about the budget Council passed this week. It’s immediate action and the first, hopeful step in a sustainable, transformative way forward. This is a budget that addresses “How much safer might we be?”

What the budget action did not do, however, is cut the Police Budget by $150 million.

The FY21 new budget reflects a new way of thinking.

It is not the status quo. It isn’t a gesture. It’s neither threatening nor punitive. It maximizes officer effort and invests in effective, proactive programs and strategies that will make Austin a place where less crime happens in the first place.  New investment focuses new resources on the underlying causes of crime.  This budget embodies our values as a city.

It begins the fundamental work of changing culture, preventing crime, and allowing our police officers to focus on crime with the goal of making Austin — a safe city — even safer.

What did Council change in the proposed budget?

  1. $21.5M.
    • Cuts to the Austin Police Department budget of (a) some unfilled positions, (b) some overtime spending, and (3) the next 3 cadet classes. This does not remove any current officers and will not impact 911 response.
    • Reinvesting that sum into on the ground public safety strategies. Like expanding EMS and mental health response, housing people without homes, and providing safe spaces for victims of domestic violence. This will lighten officer workloads.
  2. $80M.  Largely over the next year, the City will move, but still maintain, some functions from the Police Department to independent and civilian oversight and control to provide independence and transparency.  As discussed for years and reviewed by consultants, it’s time we did this with the Forensics Lab where we’ll never again have a backlog in rape kit tests.  We’ll also integrate 911 and 311 in ways that should make sure calls end up in the correct place, save money, and free-up some officers to work on crime.  Shouldn’t Internal Affairs not be in the same reporting structure it investigates? Support Services don’t need to be handled by sworn officers.  The City Manager has set up a process, with expert and community voices, to determine how these functions will be moved and to identify any unanticipated consequences.
  3. $50M.  The Council Public Safety Committee will start Monday asking whether or not other Police Department functions might be bettered handled independently and differently at some point in the future. Can we free officers from spending so much of their time responding to thousands of false alarms so they can devote more of their time to crimes being committed?  Police officers would still serve as adjunct professors, but do we need our sworn officers also to administer the Academy? Or Recruitment?  Should we have separate Park Rangers or a Lake Patrol as a way to free-up sworn police officers with guns to fight crime?  Shouldn’t somebody else be enforcing noise ordinances downtown?  We need to see if any of these are good ideas appropriate for future action.

Think of it in buckets:

1. Immediate Reductions  $21.5M from cancelling three cadet classes, some unfilled positions and some overtime spending.  This does not remove any current officers and it will not impact 911 response.  And note: 

As concerns the cadet classes, a benefit of reimagining public safety is a decreased need for the number of sworn officers. The cadet classes present a real opportunity to reform police training, create and spread change agents and to improve racial diversity and culture at APD. The Council did not rule out the possibility that one or two of those classes might still yet begin in FY21 depending on factors such as having a revised curriculum successfully completed and an appropriate recruitment program available. Considerations could be given to attrition rates, pension impacts, and other funding that might become available. Future decisions on cadet classes should consider modified force requirements if the reimagining work results in changes in anticipated needs for sworn officers.

As concerns overtime, if circumstances change and overtime is needed to avoid an impact to public safety City, the City Manager will return to Council for any indicated action.

2.  Immediate Reinvestments  $21.5M  for big, on the ground items (in order of spending level):  housing folks w/o homes ($6.5M – this is the operational money needed to operate things like the hotels we’re buying); increase EMS capacity ($5M – since most police and fire calls are medical calls); provide shelter for those fearing domestic violence before they’re hurt ($2M – currently there’s a wait list of those trying to avoid family violence); violence prevention programs ($2M); and mental health responders ($1M).

3.  Decouple $80M with functions that we want to decouple from APD over the next year but are presently not changing anything pending a planning process. The functions will probably continue, but most with independence and civilian leadership.  And note:  Regarding the Decoupled Fund, these elements could and should come out of APD. The staff is to proceed with these elements being decoupled from APD, but if the staff and community identify unintended negative consequences that cannot be reasonably worked around, we expect staff to come back to Council with that finding.  Functions include:  Forensic Lab ($13M); integrating 911 with 311 ($18M); Administrative Services ($33M); Internal Affairs ($5M).

4. Re-Imagine $49M of things that may or may not leave APD at some undefined point in the future, pending a review process.  And note:  The Reimagine functions should receive further review and potentially be separated from or end operations under APD with funding therefor diverted to alternative public safety solutions. Council will need that review to be complete in order to address both whether or not and how such changes would be accomplished.  Functions include:  Mounted Patrol ($2M); Traffic Enforcement ($18M); Training/Academy ($11M); Recruiting ($4M); Park and Lake Patrol ($7M); loud noise monitoring ($.3).