City funds pay for gift cards to increase participation at reimagining public safety listening session

Austin

AUSTIN (KXAN) — The Austin Police Association (APA) is calling for transparency after questions about payments the City of Austin made to get gift cards for community members at a Reimagining Public Safety (RPS) task force listening session.

A City of Austin spokesperson said up to $23,000 was budgeted by the city’s equity office to provide gift cards to help encourage participation from under-represented communities that are disproportionately impacted by policing and public safety inequities at the task force’s virtual community listening session on April 10.

APA wants to know who received the gift cards and how they were chosen.

“I think they had a set group of people they wanted to pay to show up to testify on the police issues,” said Ken Casaday. “Why do you need to pay people to go to a Zoom meeting… that makes no sense to me.”

The city said stipends were requested to help ease the financial barriers (child care, missed wages), which can often prevent under-represented communities from participating in city outreach activities.

The meeting’s purpose was to solicit feedback on ways to reimagine policing and center those voices most directly harmed by systemic public safety inequities as part of the body’s recommendations development process.

During the April 10 meeting, one participant said, “I have personally experienced a wrongful arrest and five incidents of police brutality over a three-and-a-half day period.”

Another said, “Dare I even envision how relieving it might be to see true safety and wellness for our communities upheld and affirmed by our city through community response teams.”

Casaday said changes and policies surrounding reimagining public safety are having harsh effects on the department.

“Officers are leaving on a daily basis. I’ve had five retirements and resignations in the past two days,” Casaday said.

Casaday said he is seeking a breakdown of who received the gift cards.

The city told KXAN it doesn’t have final participation numbers and doesn’t know at this stage how much of the $23,000 was spent.

The city said it had an agreement with Grassroots Leadership for the logistical coordination related to the verification of participant attendance/testimony and distribution of the gift cards, due to limited staff resources to coordinate gift card distribution.

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