AUSTIN (KXAN) — From expanding mental health and counseling options to opening a trauma recovery center, Austin’s Reimagining Public Safety Task Force wants to focus funding and attention on survivors of violent crime.
Members of the Task Force presented nearly a dozen recommendations on how to improve these services to the Public Safety Commission on Monday. The proposed changes come from a 75-page report detailing their suggested changes and restructured funding ideas.
The report was compiled by eight different working groups within the task force, such as the Services for Survivors of Violence and Violence Prevention. That working group’s recommendations include:
- Community-Rooted Safety Grant Program
- Sex Worker Outreach Services
- Community-Based Economic Services
- Mental Health Referral Fund
- Changes to Mandated Reporting
- Funding for the Office of Violence Prevention
- Expanded Victim Services
- Trauma Recovery Center
To read their full report and learn more about each recommendation, click here.
Task force member and founder of the Survivor Justice Project, Amanda Lewis, said the Austin Police Department’s Victim Services (VS) unit could stand to double in size. That’s why they’ve suggested the department increase salaries for Victim Services counselors.
“They do not currently have the capacity to serve every victim that goes to police,” she claimed.
The task force report reads, “salaries should be competitive and not depreciated
by cutting benefits or replacing needed positions with temporary positions. Victim service counselors should be paid a salary comparable to experienced counselors within our
community and comparable to victim service professionals in communities of comparable
They also suggested giving sexual assault survivors the option to speak with a VS counselor as their first point-of-contact, even before a police officer.
Additionally, they recommended 30 training hours in this area for cadets and two training hours a year for patrol officers.
“While there are other components of the Reimagining Task Force that are focused on police training related to history of policing, equity, and cultural humility, the piece that VS would be responsible for coordinating would center on victims, witnesses, and survivors of crime, trauma, and violence,” the report reads.
Finally, the task force members believe the Victim Services manager should report to the Assistant City Manager, instead of APD leadership, to “ensure that VS has a voice at the decision making tables.”
Lewis said they were encouraging the city to “think about services for survivors as many different parts of the pie,” instead of as just one piece.
The report addressed the publicly-discussed possibility of “decoupling” or separating Victim Services from the police department.
It states, “However, the Workgroup strongly recommends that the City think more broadly about services to victims and survivors in Austin… Rather than trying to divide up that one slice even further among resources within and outside of the criminal legal system, the City should expand the entire pool of funding available for survivor healing, and for the restoration and repair of harm. Our recommendations include significant amounts of funding being dedicated to resources outside of the criminal legal system without any reduction of funding to existing Victim Services.”
Trauma Recovery Center
The task force has also recommended the creation of a Trauma Recovery Center (TRC) in order to provide free therapy and case management for crime victims, regardless of any prior reporting or involvement with the criminal legal system or immigration status.
Terra Tucker, the State Director of the Alliance for Safety and Justice, noted that many victims of violence may be too mistrustful or too afraid to go directly to law enforcement. That’s why they’ve opened 35 TRCs across the nation to offer services for people, even without filing a police report.
“They’re having problems eating and sleeping. They can’t return to work. They don’t know where to turn,” Tucker explained. “What we found is that once people get the services that they need, they are more likely to report and work with law enforcement.”
Their data shows survivors who are treated at a TRC are 56% more likely to return to work. Similarly, sexual assault victims receiving TRC services were 69% more likely to file a police report than those not receiving them.
She calls it a win-win for survivors and for law enforcement.
If opened in Austin, the TRC would be the first-of-its-kind in the state.
Tucker said their group recently expanded to Michigan and is eyeing Texas next.
The Reimagining Public Safety report requests $1 million for the creation of the center. Lewis noted to Public Safety Commissioners that could be a yearly cost.
When KXAN asked about the cost, Tucker said “it’s a lot of bang for your buck.”
She explained that each center can serve hundreds of victims each year.
At one point in the meeting, a commissioner asked, “Who will ultimately decide whether these recommendations are doable, and whether the juice is worth the squeeze?”
The Director of the Office of Police Oversight explained that all the task force’s recommendations were ultimately up to the city manager to implement, with the help of their task force leadership — after City Council approved each initiative.