Austin ballot initiative could force city to add 200+ police officers

Austin

AUSTIN (KXAN) — The group that brought forward and helped pass Austin’s camping ban is now petitioning to get a new initiative on the November ballot, one that would potentially force the city to hire hundreds of new police officers.

Save Austin Now announced Wednesday that the ordinance it’s seeking to get on the ballot would do the following:

  • Increase Austin Police staffing to two officers per thousand people, potentially adding hundreds of brand new positions
  • Double the amount of yearly training that officers receive after they graduate from the cadet academy
  • Increase minority hiring and put more of a focus on community policing
  • Give retention bonuses to officers who have not received complaints

“Homicides are on track to double last year’s all-time record,” Save Austin Now said in a statement. “Our current police staffing level is equal to 2008 when Austin was 45% as large as it is today. Attrition is harming readiness and response times. Police morale is at an all-time low.”

At the press conference, representatives from several law enforcement groups, along with City Council Member Mackenzie Kelly and Rep. Chip Roy spoke, showing support for the initiative.

“We worked very hard, and we passed Prop B, and because of that, we’re now rallying around this issue,” Kelly said.

Save Austin Now co-founder Cleo Petricek told KXAN that additional city, state and federal funding would be needed to pay for the ballot initiative should it pass, while keeping the programs the city has chosen to fund with reallocated police money intact.

“It’s not mutually exclusive,” Petricek said. “We should be supporting more mental health. We should be supporting rape centers. We should be supporting everything that is a part of once someone is a victim and needs services. However, I don’t think you need to divert.”

Save Austin Now did not offer other guidelines on how to pay for these hundreds of new police officers or extra training. They did say in a statement, “It’s about prioritizing in the budget. It’s not adding money to the budget.”

KXAN asked specifically how much money this ballot initiative could force the city to reallocate or pay for in new spending, but Save Austin Now could not provide that estimate at this time. That’s the part that has some activists concerned.

“I think it sounds good in their head, but I don’t see, practically, how this is going to be funded,” said activist Chas Moore, who serves on the Reimagining Public Safety Task Force.

“Instead of, like, taking the time to do things right, to get all the input needed, to actually see the outcomes of something new, you just rush the process or you immediately go back to the status quo,” Moore said of Save Austin Now’s initiative.

Save Austin Now will need at least 20,000 signatures on its petition to get the ordinance on the November ballot.

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