Texas early voting begins Monday: Austin’s polarizing ‘Prop A’ is on the ballot

Austin

A voting booth. (Photo by Samuel Corum/Getty Images)

AUSTIN (KXAN) — As early voting across the state begins on Monday, including in Austin and Travis County at large, one of the propositions voters will see on the ballot is already causing division.

“Prop. A” would increase police staffing in Austin to a minimum of two officers per 1,000 people, in addition to doubling required training for officers, increase minority hiring and require 35% of officer shifts be spent on community policing.

Prop. A is estimated to cost Austin between $271.5 million and $598.8 million over the next five years, according to Austin’s chief financial officer.

Early voting will continue through Oct. 29 and Election Day is Nov. 2.

For a complete look at what’s on the ballot visit the KXAN Your Local Election HQ homepage.

FOR PROP. A

Prop. A’s journey onto the November ballot was all because of petitioning by Save Austin Now, a political action committee made up of advocates wanting increased policing in Austin after a spike in crime.

The nonprofit collected over 25,600 signatures in July, about one year after Austin City Council voted unanimously to incrementally transition millions of dollars from APD to other areas of public health and safety. Some, including Save Austin Now, argue this was a direct example of cities “defunding police.”

Several organizations are in support of Prop. A, including the Austin Police Association, the Texas Police Association and the Texas Municipal Police Association.

“Austin has never been less safe than it is today and the police staffing crisis continues to worsen,” said SAN co-founders Matt Mackowiak and Cleo Petricek in July.

SAN says Prop. A’s incentive program (including bonuses for officers with zero complaints at the end of each year) would be among several changes toward community policing reform.

The group argues that Austin’s police staffing is the lowest it’s ever been — a number it says is just not enough for the growing population.

“Prop. A fixes this by requiring the city to hire and maintain more officers and to rapidly catch up to the number of officers we have lost or fired when city council defunded the police in 2019. We’re 320 officers short of where we were then, and we’re already seeing the impact,” SAN’s website reads.

Save Austin Now also says Prop. A is estimated to cost $54 million per year — that number comes from taking the city’s low-end cost estimate over five years and dividing it by five.

“Austin will become the first major city to overturn defund the police through a citizen vote. Our city supports law enforcement, even if City Hall does not, SAN said previously. “Our message to Steve Adler and Greg Casar is this: November is coming.”

AGAINST PROP. A

Opposition to the proposition resulted in the launch of No Way on Prop. A, a coalition of more than 80 groups that advocated against what they say is a “dangerous” and “fiscally irresponsible” measure.

“No Way on Prop. A” is made up of several labor unions and other Austin organizations, including Austin Justice Coalition and the Travis County Democratic Party. Organizers argue that not only is Prop. A misrepresentative of crime statistics in Austin, they say it’s a reversal of several changes made to city policing over the past year.

“Prop. A is a wolf in sheep’s clothing,” reads No Way’s website. “…This is not the training the community has demanded. This is more-of-the-same warrior-like policing, not reform.”

The Austin Police Department’s 2021-22 budget was a record $442 million. Prop. A’s multi-million-dollar price tag could be in addition to APD’s next approved budget. Opponents worry the big increase would be at the expense of community resources like public libraries and mental health services.

Prop. A opponents argue City of Austin money would be better spent doing harm reduction and community enhancements like recovery programs and housing for the homeless.

“If Prop. A passes, all of these services will be on the chopping block. We’re talking about neighborhood public libraries, neighborhood swimming pools, mental health services,” said Austin City Council Member Vanessa Fuentes.

No Way says true police reform “requires more thought and attention than Prop. A’s “more of the same” approach. It’s worked to reduce violence in other cities, and it can work in Austin.”

KXAN held an in-depth “Ballot Breakdown” virtual town hall last week that explored what Prop. A would mean for the city, hearing perspectives from those who support and oppose the measure. Watch the entire conversation online.

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