Criminal justice reform advocates saw victory on Thursday after the City of Austin voted to cut its police department budget by $20 million and reinvest the money into public health and safety programs.
The proposal voted on by Austin City Council ultimately targets up to $150 million of the police department budget in multiple phases that reassign police functions — like forensic sciences and 911 call centers — to other departments or services over the next year, as well as further proposed divestments from police, like mounted patrol and lake patrol units.
For now, the divestment represents a 4.5 percent immediate cut to the police department budget.
The Austin Justice Coalition, one of the leading advocacy groups that pushed for steep cuts for the police department, called today’s vote the “first big step.”
“Everything the City invested in today — from public health and emergency medical services to survivor support and violence prevention — would not have been funded without immediate cuts to the police department’s bloated budget,” the group wrote to supporters in an email. “Each of these investments has the potential to improve public safety for all Austinites, unlike the current APD strategy of severely over-policing people of color and causing intergenerational harm to entire communities.”
Austin is the first major Texas city to begin heeding calls from activists and protestors following the death of George Floyd that seek to reimagine how city budgets can prevent crime and address other social problems without relying on police.
The first draft of Dallas’s budget released last week shows minor cuts to police and a major funding boost to a program that dispatches mental health experts to aid police with some 911 calls. San Antonio is planning on increasing its police department budget by $8 million per its latest budget proposal. In June, Houston City Council unanimously approved a new budget with a two percent increase to police funding.
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