AUSTIN (KXAN) — As the November election nears, there’s been a lot of buzz on Austin’s Proposition A, but what exactly is it?
Prop. A was brought forward by Save Austin Now, the same group that helped pass Austin’s camping ban after getting it on the ballot. The group began petitioning for the proposition earlier this year, stating that the proposal would require the city to hire hundreds of new police officers.
It was certified by the city clerk in early August and the city council sent it for a public vote in November’s election. Below is the language voters will see on their ballots:
Shall a petitioned ordinance be approved to enhance public safety and police oversight, transparency and accountability by adding new chapter 2-16 to establish minimum standards for the police department to ensure effective public safety and protect residents and visitors to Austin, and prescribing minimal requirements for achieving the same, at an estimated cost of $271.5 million – $598.8 million over five years
Primarily, the proposition would:
- Increase Austin police staffing to two officers per 1,000 people
- Double the amount of yearly trainings for officers
- Increase minority hiring and put more of a focus on community policing — requiring that 35% of officers’ shifts are spent in “community engagement”
In an estimate from Austin’s Chief Financial Officer Ed Van Eenoo, the proposition could cost the city anywhere between $271.5 million and $598.9 million over the next five years, but it is unclear where the money would come from, either from the city’s budget or in a tax rate increase.
That estimate is on top of the Austin Police Department budget of $442 million the city council approved for 2021-2022.
The proposition comes as the Austin Police Department implements changes to its operation, in an attempt to take on staffing challenges. An officer shortage has triggered the downsizing or suspension of 14 different departments, APD said earlier this year.
The department also recently implemented a new way of responding to non-emergency calls, directing residents to call 311 instead of 911 for crimes no longer in progress.
Austin’s newly-hired police chief, Joseph Chacon, has avoided commenting publicly on Prop. A, but recently acknowledged an ongoing staffing crisis with no quick fix.
Several organizations have come in support and against passing Prop. A.
Opponents believe the passage of Prop. A could lead to funding cuts within the fire department, parks, pools and libraries.
The firefighters’ union has come out against the ballot item, stating that the police department already has the resources to hire more officers.
“The AFA membership, discussion and vote to oppose Proposition A was never about disrespecting police. It was only about examining the negative consequences of a poorly written law, that if passed, would have enormous negative impacts on public safety as a whole, including fire and EMS, as well as parks, libraries and other central city services,” Austin Fire Association President and Battalion Chief Bob Nicks said.
But, Save Austin Now claims the city’s estimate of how much it’ll cost them is inaccurate. The city’s cost estimate factors in things like population growth, additional police substations and incentives for good behavior Save Austin Now has outlined.
“This is an assessment by them, it’s not by a third party. This is within their own, exploding the number,” said Cleo Petricek, a cofounder of Save Austin Now.
Petricek says Austin needs to hire and retain more officers to curb a growing murder rate.
On Oct. 5, former Austin mayors Lee Leffingwell, Lee Cooke and Ron Mullen and current city council member Mackenzie Kelly threw their support behind the movement, stating “there is a lot wrong with having too few” officers.
Election Day is Nov. 2 and early voting runs from Oct. 18 through Oct. 29.