City Council passes ordinances targeting racial disparity in arrests

Austin

AUSTIN (KXAN) — There is a change coming in the way the Austin Police Department operates, as the Austin City Manager will now work with police to end most discretionary arrests.

“The guidelines for when you get arrested and when you get a ticket leaves something to be desired,” said Council Member Greg Casar.

Thursday night Austin City Council passed an ordinance that directs City Manager Spencer Cronk to work with the police department in an effort to reduce racial disparities. It passed with 6 for, 0 against and 2 absent.

The ordinance also takes a closer look at monetary impacts related to APD’s “discretionary arrests in lieu of citations for certain non-violent misdemeanors.”

“It takes several hours usually for a police officer to arrest someone,” said Casar. “[From] driving them down to booking and to [going] through the booking process that ultimately ends up costing the city a significant amount of money and resources that could be dedicated to something else.”

A study that tracked Austin Police Department arrests shows African-Americans were more likely to get arrested instead of just getting a ticket for minor non-violent misdemeanor offenses than any other race. Those include marijuana possession, driving with an invalid driver’s license and city ordinance violations.

“African-Americans and Latinos make up about 45 percent of Austin’s population but from police data, it shows they make up 75 percent of the driving while license invalid arrest,” Casar said.

Data analyst and campaigns coordinator for Grassroots Leadership, Chris Harris, believes there’s a problem with our justice system.

“Racial disparity and arrests are a serious problem in our community,” he said. 

Casar says he’s heard from the community and has been discussing this issue with his fellow council members and Police Chief Brian Manley. Casar says they’re committed to working on this. 

He understands this can be a tough subject to discuss but is hopeful for the future. 

“I can understand why some people’s natural inclination is to be defensive when we take on issues of race because there is a lot of emotions and history at stake, but it’s really important for us to have those difficult conversations,” said Casar.

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