The Austin City Council has voted to make one of the most substantial cuts to a major city’s police budget since George Floyd’s death, which sparked calls across the country to defund police. In a unanimous vote, the council passed a joint proposal to shrink the police department’s budget by nearly $150 million and reinvest a portion of those funds in services for the community.
This year’s budget removes funding from the Austin Police Department’s $434 million budget for the first time in over a decade. For months, hundreds of community members have protested and called in to council meetings to demand Austin stop giving more money to a police department that has yet to be held accountable for police shootings like that of Michael Ramos and start investing in services that create safe and healthy communities.
“Today’s budget vote is unprecedented in Texas. We’ve begun a transformational change away from mass incarceration and toward real community safety,” said Councilmember Gregorio Casar in a statement shared with The Appeal. “Today, we chose to create a safer city. We’re opening a new family violence shelter; we’re hiring mental health crisis teams; we voted to get hundreds more people out of homelessness; we funded gun violence prevention programs.”
Cities across the country have voted to cut police budgets in recent months. The Minneapolis City Council moved to disband its troubled police department in June, though the effort has since been stalled. The Los Angeles City Council voted to reverse a $120 million increase to the LAPD’s budget and cut an additional $30 million, while the New York City Council shifted $1 billion away from the NYPD. In Portland, Oregon, the mayor and superintendent agreed to remove police officers from the city’s schools and put the $1 million budgeted for school resource officers back into the community. Austin’s proposal cuts the police department’s budget by roughly a third, a larger percentage reduction than these other cuts.
The joint proposal was put forth by Councilmembers Casar, Natasha Harper-Madison, and Mayor Pro Tem Delia Garza late last week and combined many of the ideas council members have recommended throughout the budget process.
Under the joint proposal, over $20 million will be immediately cut from APD’s budget and reallocated elsewhere. Another almost $80 million will be taken from APD’s budget by moving certain civilian functions, like dispatch and the forensics lab, out of APD, though that money will still be spent on funding those civilian functions, just not within the police department. And an additional $50 million will be taken from the police budget and put into a “Reimagine Safety Fund” in an effort to transition money away from the police department and toward alternative forms of public safety, like employing park rangers instead of park police.
The over $20 million in immediate cuts will be used instead to open a new family violence shelter and fund violence prevention programs, housing services, substance use and mental healthcare services, and emergency medical services needs during the COVID-19 crisis, among other investments. Some of the immediate cuts include cancelling cadet classes, reducing overtime spending, and eliminating contracts for things like license plate readers.
Some community members say the cuts still don’t go far enough, and called the nearly $130 million to be removed from the APD budget over the course of this fiscal year an “accounting change.”
“The budget passed today does not meet this moment,” Grassroots Leadership and Communities of Color United said in a joint statement, noting that they had called for a $220 million divestment from police. Instead, they got “a meer $21.5 million in immediate cuts and reallocations” but “no significant investments in the priorities that abolitionist BIPOC have identified towards creating a foundation of safety without policing.”
This story has been updated with reactions to the passage of the budget.