AUSTIN (KXAN) — The Austin Police Association confirmed they are sending out text messages to the community, calling on people to oppose what they refer to as Austin City Council efforts to “defund the police.”
Several viewers reached out to KXAN after receiving the texts that read in part, “This is Justin, a neighbor who supports our Austin Police. Tomorrow the City Council is voting on a last minute-measure to defund the police. This cuts patrols in all neighborhoods during unrest! Can I add your name to a long list of voters Opposed to Defunding our police?”
The texts were followed by an attachment reading “Public Safety Alert” and “Paid for by Austin Police Association.”
“I just thought it was spammy that the Austin Police Association was sending out messages,” one viewer told KXAN.
Austin Police Association President Ken Casaday said the response to the texts, however, has been overwhelmingly positive.
“We’ve actually had to hire more people to man the computers, to respond back to the people we’ve been texting,” he said. “We just felt like it was important to hear from the community and get their support behind the department.”
There are five items up for a vote on Thursday’s city council agenda related to police reform and racial justice. Some of the proposals include banning the use of chokeholds, tear-gas, rubber bullets, and bean bags rounds.
One item on the agenda proposes cutting any additional sworn police officer positions from next year’s budget.
“Somewhere someone’s job is going to be affected by this, we just don’t know yet. Because you do have to maintain enough people on patrol, but right now we don’t have enough,” Casaday said.
The Austin Justice Coalition has started a petition to decrease the APD budget by $100 million and pursue investments in community-led initiatives to prevent violence, instead of police, but the coalition President Chas Moore said that’s not what’s being voted on on Thursday.
“I think it’s really important to note, this resolution does not cut any existing officers,” Moore said. “It’s really talking about how we need to build out that mental health crisis response team, and not leave that in the hands of the officers.”
He said they want the city to get creative in how they address problems like mental health calls and emergency response.
“We believe that if you invest in the community, the community can come up with their own ideas of what safety and community intervention looks like,” he said. “As opposed to getting to work, and getting creative, and doing the hard work we need to do to have something new and better, people would rather stay content with this thing we have that is bad.”
City Council member Greg Casar told KXAN that APA’s text was a “misleading characterization” of what council is trying to do with these resolutions.
“What we are trying to do is put in place common sense rules so that everyone can feel safe when they are in our city,” Casar said.
He said they won’t set the budget until August, but they want to start having conversations about how to utilize funds differently. He said they have seen that “adding dozens and dozens of police officers” doesn’t work for all neighborhoods.
“Nobody is talking about pulling resources out of our neighborhoods or our community. We are just talking about having alternative forms of emergency response,” Casar said. “We are talking about treating homelessness with housing, instead of just locking them up for a night and sending them back out where they came from. We are talking about treating addiction with treatment, rather than just policing.”
One Austin resident, Susan Ogden, said she was in favor of listening to new ideas, but wanted to urge the council to consider everything before making any budget cuts.
She stood outside of City Hall with signs that read ‘Defund the City Council’ and ‘No City Police, No City Taxes.’
“Of late, I feel like City Council has just been making these inexplicable decisions,” Ogden said. “The homeowners in this town? We pay the bills, every time something happens.”
She thinks police funding shouldn’t be dismissed so quickly.
“There are older people, there are single people that need police protection, and I bet a lot of them don’t even know that this is happening.”
Casaday agreed, saying, “A lot of times people don’t have time to get on Zoom to talk to council, or drive to council to let their feelings be known.”
He said that’s why the launched the text campaign, and they will continue to utilize it as a tool to connect.
“We are finding out in a massive way that the people in the community of Austin support hiring more officers, not de-funding the department.”
Meanwhile, Casar said his office has seen more than 10,000 emails calling for police reforms, and that’s why council is bringing these resolutions.
“What council member Natasha Harper-Madison is saying in her proposal is: In the next budget, if there are vacant police positions that we don’t think can even be filled next year, then maybe we should consider some of that money to be moved over into social work, or housing, or domestic violence prevention?”