AUSTIN (KXAN) — A coalition of social justice and advocacy groups in Austin has launched a campaign to stop what its members call misinformation about Austin City Council’s plan to reinvest some of the city’s police budget.
Leaders from the coalition, made up of eight local organizations, say they want to show support for the city leaders’ decision to invest in alternative public safety and public health initiatives.
“I’ve been talking to a lot of people who think police were fired, or have been told that budget cuts mean police can’t do their job,” said Austin Justice Coalition Executive Director Chas Moore. “None of that is true, but I understand why people are confused. Anti-civil rights politicians and police unions are using this budget decision to scare voters, and they don’t mind lying about what happened.”
In addition to the Austin Justice Coalition, the groups that make up the coalition are Austin Democratic Socialists of America, Just Liberty, MEASURE, Survivor Justice Project, Texas Appleseed, Texas Fair Defense Project and Texas Workers Defense Project.
The group’s new website features a petition that asks people to sign in support of Reimagine ATX.
“We will be asking people in every Council District to sign this petition, and then volunteer to attend events and show support for the #ReimagineATX public safety process that will implement the Council’s budget decisions over the course of the year,” said Emily Gerrick, of the Texas Fair Defense Project.
“This is new. We are, you know, divesting from the idea, as well as monetarily, that the police have to do everything,” Moore said. “But just because it’s new and we haven’t done it before doesn’t mean that we can’t do it and we shouldn’t do it.”
The group says it’s faced pushback from police unions, calling some of the messaging the unions are sharing about the plan “misinformation” and “scare tactics.”
Austin Police Association President Ken Casaday argues there’s evidence the budget cuts already led to more officers resigning and less overtime available to backfill shifts.
“We have lost on average eight people a month for the last four months to resignation,” Casaday said. “That’s not to retirements or people being fired. That’s people leaving to go to other jobs, specifically other police jobs around the state, like Round Rock, so we’re training these officers to go off to other departments.”
Casaday says this past weekend some shifts downtown were only staffed at 50 percent, with five officers on shifts that should have had ten on Saturday.
“There was a time that night where there were like 16 calls holding up,” Casaday said. “There actually was a time period that night to where we had no units available to go to an aggravated robbery.”
The Austin police public information office was unable to verify that statement Monday.
In a discussion with Austin PBS, Austin Mayor Steve Adler said he wanted to clear up the idea that city council has taken away $150 million from the police budget.
“It didn’t happen,” Adler said. “Council didn’t take any action to do that or anywhere near that.
So far, city leaders have taken about $21 million from APD to reinvest in areas like EMS funding, COVID-19 funding and funding for shelter for victims of violence.
Adler asserts that any money reinvested down the road will be a result of working collaboratively.
“Be open to people making suggestions or ideas that may be different than your own,” he said. “That doesn’t mean you have to accept them, but we should all be sitting around the table exploring them.