AUSTIN (KXAN) — City of Austin officials accused Gov. Greg Abbott of attempting to distract from the state’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic after Abbott indicated he would consider legislation that would put the Austin Police Department under state control.
“We’ve gotten used to threats by tweet and authoritarian threats by tweet whether it’s out of the Governor’s Office or the White House,” Council Member Greg Casar told KXAN.
Abbott tweeted on Thursday that a proposal to put APD under the control of the Texas Department of Public Safety is “one strategy” that he’s considering in response to cuts to police funding that were made by the Austin City Council.
The Austin City Council approved the Fiscal Year 2020-21 budget earlier this month that immediately cut $20 million from the APD budget while beginning a year-long process of transitioning $130 million in services away from police oversight.
“Austin is the safest big city in Texas and one of the safest in the country,” Mayor Steve Adler said in a statement. “Not surprising the President’s rhetoric is finding its way to Texas as we get closer to November.”
Abbott has been a vocal critic of the Austin City Council’s reimagining of public safety since the budget was finalized earlier this month. On Aug. 18, Abbott, alongside outgoing Texas House Speaker Dennis Bonnen and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, said forthcoming legislation would freeze property tax rates in cities that defund the police.
A University of Texas/Texas Politics Project poll in June found 84% of Republicans in Texas think favorably of the police compared to just 27% of Democrats.
Jim Henson, director of the Texas Politics Project, said Abbott’s suggestion that the state could assume control of APD could work in his political favor.
“It’s also an opportunity for Republican elected officials to shift the public agenda, or at least attempt to shift the agenda of public discussion, away form the slog of trying to contain the pandemic,” Henson said.
Attorney General Ken Paxton believes the state legislature has the authority to place policing in Austin under Dept. of Public Safety control.
“It’s a way to address a problem that the City of Austin is failing to address,” Paxton told KXAN.