At $442 million, Austin proposes largest police budget yet

Austin

AUSTIN (KXAN) — City Manager Spencer Cronk is proposing a $442 million budget for the Austin Police Department next year, a record high.

It comes after more than a year of local debate about the role of police in public safety and how much money APD should get.

The proposed total is $10 million more than APD’s budget in 2019-20. It includes funding for two more cadet classes. Following scrutiny over the department’s training and culture, the city restarted cadet classes in June with a new reimagined curriculum.

“I’m certainly glad the budget is what it is,” said APD Interim Chief Joseph Chacon.

Last summer, following local protests sparked by the deaths of George Floyd and Mike Ramos, Austin City Council agreed to divert some of APD’s funding to other areas like Austin-Travis County EMS, a family violence shelter, permanent supportive housing and workforce development.

The plan was also to eventually move the 911 center and forensics lab out of APD’s control and budget. But the 911 center and forensics lab won’t be moving out of APD anytime soon because of the state’s new law that goes into effect in September.

Passed by state lawmakers and signed by Gov. Greg Abbott, HB 1900 allows Texas to punish large cities that cut funding for police by capping property taxes in those cities, deducting sales tax revenue or stripping annexation powers. Cronk acknowledged the reality at Friday’s budget proposal announcement.

“The goal is to keep the independence of some of these areas and to keep the momentum of our reimagining public safety work,” said Cronk. “But we know we have to comply with HB 1900, and we will.”

Proponents of an independent forensics lab say it allows for better transparency and monitoring of crucial DNA evidence. Quality issues were found in APD’s old crime lab — thousands of rape kits were backlogged and a number of cases, potentially hundreds, were mishandled.

In May police told us the separate forensics department, directly under the City Manager’s Office, would be established by July 1. Then, Abbott signed HB 1900 into law.

“Our top scientists, our police and victim advocates have all said that having an independent forensics lab is the right thing to do, so we’re going to keep fighting for that,” said Greg Casar, Austin City Council member representing District 4.

Under the new law, “defunding local government” is determined by comparing the money and personnel going toward law enforcement in a city’s budget to that of the previous year. Austin won’t lose out on the money diverted to EMS, the family violence shelter and other services, because it is being offset by rising police salaries, pensions and other benefits.

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