Austin City manager proposes police cuts, but where will that money go?

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AUSTIN (KXAN) – City council members were clear Thursday they wanted funding out of the Austin Police Department’s hands.

“We have moved from this idea that adding staff is going to fix something when it’s not,” said Mayor Pro Tem Delia Garza.

Where that money will go is another question.

Austin City Manager Spencer Cronk is proposing to eliminate nearly 100 sworn positions from the Austin Police Department. The department has 172 vacancies and the positions in jeopardy are currently unfilled.

Because a new officer makes $100,000 including salary and all benefits, the move could theoretically free up nearly $10 million dollars.

But outside of a rough estimate for position cuts, the city hasn’t made any specific staffing decisions.

“More specifics will be available once the Manager presents the proposed budget in mid-July,” a city spokesperson told KXAN

Budget staff also told members of the newly-formed Public Safety Committee they wouldn’t have time to roll out a “re-imagined” public safety budget for next year.

But in his memo Cronk said as the city mulls changes to public safety, positions within the Forensics Lab, 9-1-1 dispatch center or victim services could be moved out of APD.

Proposed reforms, in Austin and elsewhere, have come with the idea that police are doing too much and aren’t qualified to do everything.

“Police should not be our social service first responders or are mental health first responders,” said Mayor Steve Adler.

In Houston, the city took the forensics department out of HPD and made it independent, an idea the Houston Police Department would come on board with.

Don’t make police do chemistry work on the head of a cruiser,” said Peter Stout, President and CEO of the Houston Forensics Science Center. “That’s not what we need them to do.”

Since 2014, the Houston Forensics Science Center has collected evidence at major crime scenes in the city. Over the years, it has replaced officers with scientists and other civilian employees.

Aside from better evidence processing, Stout believes having an independent group collecting evidence increases public trust.

“If [evidence] is handled in a separate framework, there’s that crosscheck and balance on the investigative effort,” said Stout.

Cronk is also proposing to delay APD’s July cadet class.

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