AUSTIN (KXAN) — Austin’s Reimagining Public Safety Task Force recommended in a work session Wednesday the idea of doing away with several police units in the next budget cycle. It suggests reallocating the money for other needs.
Two of the units one workgroup focused on are those that involve animals — APD’s Mounted Patrol and K9 Units.
“There are many tools police have. These happen to be very costly,” said Kathy Mitchell, chair of the workgroup that made the recommendations.
The Reimagining Public Safety Task Force estimates that APD’s Mounted Patrol and K9 units collectively cost the city nearly $5.5 million a year.
Concerning the Mounted Patrol Unit, Mitchell points to the fact that APD still hasn’t built a new facility for its horses with bond money approved for that nearly 10 years ago.
In 2012, voters approved a $31 million public safety bond that included money for a new facility for the police horses. APD bought an 88-acre site near COTA in 2011 in preparation of building a new facility. However, in October 2020, APD rejected a $14.4 million bid to build the facility. That was far over what had been budgeted.
APD has been leasing a space for the horses in Manor that costs about $4,500 a month.
In a Facebook post Thursday, the Austin Police Association wrote that the city hasn’t fulfilled its obligation to the voters, regarding the Mounted Patrol facility.
Mitchell says at this point, it would cost too much more than was allocated through the bond.
She points to other major cities like Washington D.C. that disbanded their mounted patrols.
“Here are alternative ways to manage crowd control,” Mitchell said.
As for the K9 Unit, Mitchell says the task force understands the dogs are used to sniff out things like narcotics and explosives.
However, she adds, “They are also the same dogs used to apprehend fleeing suspects, which often can involve biting people.”
Mitchell points to data collected by task force members that suggests inequalities, saying from 2015 to 2019, APD’s K9s primarily bit Black and Hispanic men.
The task force is discussing recommending city council move to defund those units and move the money into other areas like re-structuring lake patrol to be handled by EMS.
In its Facebook post, the Austin Police Association expressed opposition to that idea, saying, “Both of these units provide great value & service to Austin.”
KXAN reached out to APD and APA for more comment Monday but did not get any.
The Reimaginig Public Safety Task Force has also recommended doing away with other units like APD’s Gang Suppression Unit and the Real Time Crime Center, which monitors HALO cameras.
However, those are still just conversations at this point. There will be more discussion before the task force sends its final recommendations to council by the end of this month.