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Yay or Nay for Austin’s Prop A

By Kara Valentine

Through rallying and canvassing, advocates for No Way on Prop A gathered downtown Saturday, Sept. 18, to get their message across: “Misinformation and frustrated are very nice words,” said Austin City Council Member Gregorio “Greg” Casar.

“Prop A is a dangerous and fiscally irresponsible ballot measure. It would force Austin to cut essential services to spend hundreds of millions more solely on the police department, with zero accountability,” quotes the webpage for No Way on Prop A.

In its infancy, having been formally launched in early September, No Way on Prop A (No Way) is in opposition of Proposition A – the proposed ordinance suggesting policy, training and staffing modifications be made to the Austin Police Department potentially costing between $54.3 million and $119.8 million, as estimated in the fiscal analysis submitted by Austin’s Chief Financial Officer, Ed Van Eenoo.

 “The same folks that are out there saying that vaccines don’t work, are out there saying that ‘if you put all of the city’s money into the police department, you’re going to be safe’, neither of those things are true, but it’s just for their own political gain even if it hurts everybody else,” said Casar.

Founded by bipartisan citizen’s group Save Austin Now, Prop A was signed by nearly 30,000 registered voters of the City of Austin, with purpose to “enhance public safety and police oversight, transparency and accountability,” as stated in the group’s petition. The ordinance is in response to Austin City Council’s unanimous decision in August 2020 to cut $150 million from the city’s police department, the largest budget cut in the nation, and redirect the money toward social services as part of the city’s Reimagining Public Safety program.

On the agenda for Prop A is the following:

  • An increase in staff to two officers for every 1,000 residents – the city currently employs 1.7 officers per 1,000 residents with a national average of 2.4 per 1,000 residents, according to the FBI’s Uniform Crime Report of 2019.
  • Additional 40 hours per year of continued education and training for matters such as active shooter scenarios, critical thinking and defensive tactics – an increase from the presently mandated 40 hours.
  • Financial incentives for foreign-language proficiency, cadet mentoring programs and recognition of honorable conduct.
  • Minimum of 35% of all officer shifts be committed to “community engagement time” – such as patrols – required by the entire police force.

The No Way on Prop A campaign is an alliance comprised of over 80 groups, such as labor unions, Austin Justice Coalition, Texas Criminal Justice Coalition and the Travis County Democratic party. Endorsed by a hefty handful of elected officials – including Mayor Steve Adler – No Way is voicing concerns that the estimated budget increase accompanying Prop A may force cuts to other city resources. 

Skip, Field Director for No Way on Prop A, says “The Republicans at Save Austin Now have a proposition on the November 2 ballot that, if passed, will force the city of Austin to hire hundreds of more police officers at a cost ranging from $90 million to $120 million per year. It’s an unfunded mandate. So, they don’t have any plan to pay for it, which means the city is going to have to either cut employees or take money out of parks, libraries, animal shelters (or) public pools. It’s fiscally irresponsible and it’s not the right approach. So pretty much every Democratic organization that’s in Austin is building a coalition to oppose (Prop A).”

Regarding police department staffing shortage concerns, Police Chief Joseph Chacon said, “The fewer officers I have on patrol, it is going to impact that…I think that has played a part in this overall increase we’re seeing in the number of murders and aggravated assaults.” This statement made during a press conference following two unrelated homicides reported on the same evening.

According to the FBI, Austin has seen a 30% increase in murders, compared to 2019. Data supporting or disproving the correlation between police staffing and crime is currently inconclusive and up for debate as other variables – such as population increase – await accurate calculation.

While supporters for Prop A are concerned about the increase in homicides in Austin, critics are not convinced that the proposition is the solution. 

“Crime rates have gone up, but so has our population,” said Katie, Volunteer Coordinator for No Way. “If you think about where we’re at with that number in regard to our population…I don’t want to say it’s in a great place, but it’s not in a place that is alarming.” 

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