AUSTIN (KXAN) — As the Austin Police Department reports a rise in homicides, Gov. Greg Abbott is taking aim at the City of Austin for what he calls “defunding the police.”

In a tweet, Gov. Abbott said, “Austin experiences highest number of homicides in 20 years. This is why it is absurd that Austin is defunding police. It is also why Texas will act to roll back that defunding and consider taking over policing in some areas of Austin.”

The reaction from Abbott comes after Austin Police Department reported two new homicide investigations over the weekend.

Austin City Councilmember Greg Casar responded to Abbott in a statement Monday afternoon, saying the governor is just distracting the public from the real fight—the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Austinites will not allow Gov. Abbott to fear monger and threaten our city just to score political points and distract from his lack of action on COVID-19,” Casar’s statement said.

He said Abbott has shown a lack of leadership when it comes to the COVID-19 response, and Texans are dying as a result. Casar said killings can also be prevented in more ways than just through the police, including investing in gun violence prevention programs, domestic violence intervention and the economy during the pandemic.

“As we double down on investing limited public safety resources into community solutions to
poverty and crime, we’ll continue to see attacks from those who want to keep the status quo… We need our community to continue to use their voices to advocate for community-focused public safety, not failed over-policing that does not keep us all safer,” Casar said.

Abbott’s grievance is in reference to Austin City Council’s move in August to begin transitioning about $150 million from the Austin Police Department’s budget into other areas of public health and safety.

Austin City Council’s budget also did not include funding for new cadet classes—effectively canceling planned classes in November and in March and June 2021.

The budget cuts came after protests over the summer where Austin officers were severely criticized for their response. The Office of Police Oversight, an independent non-police agency, released 227 formal complaints related to APD actions during the protests. Complaints included concerns over use-of-force against protesters as well as specific complaints regarding personal physical injuries.

Back in August, Abbott announced a proposal stating that any Texas cities that defunded their police would have their ability to increase property taxes frozen.

“When crime is on the rise, the last thing we should do is defund law enforcement — and yet that is exactly what the City of Austin did… defunding police puts residents in danger and it invites lawlessness into our communities,” said Abbott at the time.

Updates on this proposal have stayed relatively silent since August, but the Texas legislative session will resume in January and the proposal could possibly be filed as bill at that time.

City council’s moves were also recently criticized by Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo, who blamed a sluggish showing for Texas Democrats in last Tuesday’s elections. That night, Acevedo said in a tweet, “Texas Democrats can thank ‘socialist democrats and defund the police crowd’ led by @GregCasar, @JimmyFlannigan and the rest of the Austin City Council. Fact, Americans and Texans want better policing, not de-policing, and they don’t want anything to do with any form of socialism.”

KXAN’s Wes Rapaport contributed to this report.