AUSTIN (KXAN) — Last week, Austin’s city clerk certified a petition to put the #MakeAustinSafe initiative, which is aimed at increasing police staffing, training and funding, on the November ballot. Once a petition is certified, Austin City Council has the ability to either adopt the ordinance or send it to a public vote, in accordance with state law.
Austin City Council opted for the later.
The ordinance, should it be cleared by voters, would require the city to hire and maintain a ratio of two police officers for every 1,000 residents within Austin city limits.
It would also require that patrol officers have at least 35% of their day set aside for “community engagement,” though the definition of that is still being discussed. You can read the full petition here.
In a memorandum sent to city council, Austin’s chief financial officer, Ed Van Eenoo, laid out how much the initiative would cost the city of Austin, if passed.
He estimated that, in order to meet the requirements set by the petition, anywhere from 403 to 885 additional officers would need to be hired by the department over the next five years.
The memo also noted that the city would need to build one to three new police substations.
Using both an aggressive and a conservative estimate for things like population growth and vacancy rates, the memorandum says funding for all the petition’s requirements would cost Austin anywhere from $271.5 million and $598.8 million over the next five years.
It’s not clear where this money would come from, the city’s budget or a tax increase.
“Even if we shut down the entire city parks system, we would not be able to pay for this,” Councilmember Greg Casar said.
To hit the requirement that officers have 35% of their time free for “community engagement,” more than two officers per 1,000 Austin residents would be required to handle pending and urgent calls, the memo said.
Save Austin Now posted a lengthy response to those council comments and the memo sent to council on their website, saying in part:
“As we have come to expect of this council, there will be no effort to take the side of common citizen and provide a truly informative differential analysis. As we know, the position we commoners are to play in the councils saga is simply to foot the bill.”
It comes as the city of Austin is set to approve the largest budget to date for APD next year.
During the budget’s public comment process, hundreds of people asked that less money be spent on police.
“We can’t just throw more police at our problems,” one of the speakers said in a city council meeting Wednesday morning. Speakers overwhelmingly asked city council to move the $10 million in funding that is not required to meet the guidance set by HB 1900 to other community resources.