AUSTIN (KXAN) — Austin Mayor Steve Adler joined KXAN News Today at 6:15 a.m. Friday to talk about Austin City Council’s vote to redirect $150 million from the Austin Police Department’s budget over the next year, as part of the city’s fiscal year 2021 budget approved Thursday.
To characterize the decision as cutting from the budget is a bit misleading, Mayor Adler said.
He described the changes as three buckets of $20 million, $80 million and $50 million. The first bucket accounted for leaving positions unfilled and delaying three cadet classes, another was about moving departments like internal affairs and forensics to civilian control and the last bucket discussed traffic work, training, recruitment and mounted patrol.
“But as the city, I don’t think the city’s going to recognize or operate any differently under civilian control or command on forensics or some of these other things,” Adler said. “They’re really important things to have done but the headline is misleading to suggest we’ve taken $150 million and slashed it from the police department.”
Almost immediately after the city council voted to move the money, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott said the decision “puts the brave men and women of the Austin Police Department and their families at greater risk, and paves the way for lawlessness.”
Mayor Adler disagreed with that.
“There’s nothing about what we did last night that takes any job away from any police officer,” Mayor Adler said. “Hopefully we’re going to be giving the officers the return of the time to do the things we want them to actually do which is fighting crime for us.”
While council did cut a total of 150 police officer positions, they were vacant.
When asked if he had the confidence in current APD Chief Brian Manley to enact all these changes with the department, he deferred to Spencer Cronk, the city manager.
“He’s the one that reports to us and that’s where our control is, and I absolutely expect the city manager to handle this,” Adler said. “He set up a system of re-imagining and implementing these kinds of things and investigating them. We’ve asked the manager to come back if there are any unseen consequences that we haven’t thought about.”
When pressed about the indefinite delay to three cadet classes and how it could lead to staffing issues when retirements and resignations are also factored in, Adler said they want to expand other services to take some of the burden off the police department.
“A lot of the police calls right now are health calls, like fire department. So one of the things we’re doing is beefing up EMS with this money so they can respond to more calls, taking down the caseload,” Adler said. “If we can take 100 people that are camped out downtown that are chronically getting involved with the police and our emergency rooms, I think that might limit the number of police officers that we might need downtown.”
As for the future APD officers who are now in limbo with cadet classes on hiatus, Adler said the city will work with those people, some of whom uprooted their lives and moved from hundreds of miles away for the opportunity to be an APD officer.
“I think that the city has the responsibility now to be working with those folks and the announcement from the staff yesterday was that that was — we were going to be doing everything we could,” Adler said.
But at the same time, Adler thinks the city can be as safe, if not safer, once all the changes are in place.
“There’s got to be a way for us to maintain the high level of safety we have in the City of Austin,” Adler said, “and it makes sense to me that we have a increase in EMS, a increase in taking people off the streets and putting them into homes, giving women a safe place to be so they don’t have to stay in a place where they fear violence. Those things I think all will make our city safer.”