1) It’s based on a lie.
Republicans would have you believe that major cities across Texas, led by progressive city councils, are “defunding” police departments. That is an outright, verifiable, lie. Major cities in Texas, including Austin, spend nearly half a billion dollars each on police budgets accounting for over 1/3 of their general funds each year. City of Austin officials have opted to redirect some of that funding from the Austin Police Department to other social services. As Councilman Greg Cesar said, “I think we’ve shown that we’re shifting away from over policing and instead funding community solutions.”
Republican operatives and politicians want you to believe that large, diverse cities are violent hellscapes but here are the facts: According to the FBI’s crime database Austin’s violent crime rate is lower than the state average of Texas which is higher than the national average. So, as it turns out, not only has Austin been consistently rated the best city in America to live in, it’s also safer than most anywhere else in the state or the nation. So it’s fair to say that if any city is in a position to prioritize a shift from enforcement to prevention it’s the City of Austin.
2) It’s a distraction.
The true Public Safety crisis is that the GOP’s failed leadership on containing the spread of COVID-19 has led to the deaths of more than 12,000 Texans. Ignoring public safety experts to please their base has hurt the economy and slowed the reopening of the state. When he should have been planning to safely open schools in the fall, Governor Abbott was opening bars and amusement parks in the Summer.
The Republicans know that they are on the ropes in Texas and the pandemic has tested their unity and revealed their inability to govern during a crisis. The Governor is currently being sued by GOP legislators and has been censured by county parties over his executive orders related to COVID-19. Abbott is desperate to rally Republicans around a new liberal boogeyman.
3) They only “back the blue” when it’s politically convenient.
Republicans have repeatedly ignored police when it comes to public safety issues like family violence and gun violence prevention. In 2015, Gov. Abbott and Little Gov. Dan Patrick “enthusiastically approved the open carry of handguns by licensed Texans despite opposition by many of the state’s law enforcement officials.” As the Texas Tribune reported “law enforcement groups told lawmakers open carry would be a disaster for them, especially in a crisis.” And just as predicted we saw more mass shootings in Texas and recent gun murders of Black Lives Matter protesters in Austin and Kenosha. Now GOP leaders are pushing for “Constitutional carry” which removes the licensing requirement all together.
In 2017, Sheriffs and police Chiefs from across the state pleaded with GOP legislators not to pass their racial profiling “show me your papers” law. Law Enforcement officials said it would lead a decrease in reporting of domestic abuse and other crimes because witnesses would not come forward fearing deportation. Houston Police Cheif Art Acevedo said that the threat of ICE raids had led to a 42% reduction in reports of rape in the Latino community. On the other side of the state El Paso County sheriff, Richard Wiles said, “My officers are too busy to waste their time doing another agency’s work.” Sheriff Wiles point is one Democrats should continue to make.
4) The GOP base isn’t buying it.
The Conservative “Texas Scorecard” stated that Abbott was “short on specifics,” that “the proposal could be viewed as a way to shift attention” and “may be as much politics as it is policy.” Influential Conservative Michael Quinn Sulivan went further tweeting, “Under @GregAbbott_TX’s latest meaningless policy stunt, in order for taxpayers to get control of property taxes, they need to be anti-cop?” You see, while Abbott’s goal is to make Democratic led cities look bad, Sullivan and the grassroots conservatives he represents truly want to defund them. They now see the current crop of GOP leaders are more interested in partisan politics and maintaining power than actually delivering on the Party platform. Oops.
5) Gov. Abbott has called for $1B in budget cuts
If the GOP moves forward with $1 billion in cuts, especially during a pandemic, low income Texans will be hit hard. Proposed cuts include “services that help domestic violence survivors, child advocacy programs and adult care facilities.” And it’s not just big cities that would be hurt. Rural hospitals would receive less money and meal deliveries for seniors would also be on the chopping block. Local jurisdictions will be forced to simultaneously tighten their belts and get creative to pick up the state’s slack. There’s no doubt that the fall out will put more pressure on law enforcement to do more non-police work. Sullivan may have been sarcastic when he said Abbott was creating an incentive to defund the police but it could be an unintended consequence. That’s because police departments are the largest single expense in city budgets and Abbott may leave them no choice.
Photo: Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call via Getty Images
Joe Deshotel is originally from Beaumont, Texas, but a combination of live music, politics, and natural beauty brought him to Austin in 2010. He has over a decade of experience in public policy that covers federal, state, and local government and has worked on a number of successful election campaigns. He continues to consult on Democratic campaigns and serves as the Chair of Austin’s Community Development Commission which advocates for affordable housing and solutions for homelessness.