Budget: Next steps and what you can do!

Thank you for everything you have done, for checking out Just Liberty, and for taking the actions we’ve posted. It is time to fulfill the promise of the resolutions you helped pass on June 11th.

So what’s next?

Hearing July 23rd — sign up to speak!

City Council directed the City Manager to start by presenting a budget for next year with no new officer positions and eliminating unfilled positions (an estimated 230 officer slots, worth roughly $23 million.) Instead he announced cutting 100 positions, of which 30 were newly requested positions (not existing unfilled). So the City Manager’s first step was a very, very small one indeed.

The first budget hearing is July 23rd.

SIGN UP EARLY: In order to speak at this hearing — and we’re asking you to speak — you must sign up before noon on July 22nd. Signup starts Monday July 20th. Signup ENDS at Noon on Wednesday! So sign up now!

Review the talking points below and the report from the Austin Justice Coalition. We will be adding additional resources and talking points to this page throughout the coming days.

WARNING: Our opponents, the Austin Police Association (police union,) launched scare tactics and will do so again. They lied to make reinvestment in alternative first responders sound terrifying. The should be ashamed but they are not.

We believe the Austin Justice Coalition’s call to cut the police budget by $100 million is a reasonable goal for this process. The police department currently gets 40% of general revenue or $440 million — that’s the budget that the City Council actually controls and does not include the city-owned electric company. Every year, after the police take that big chunk, swimming pools and libraries and health services fight for relative scraps. This year can be different. We need to:

  • Fully implement Council’s directive to move an estimated $23 million allocated to unfilled positions out of the police department. The audit of the police academy is likely to prevent any new cadets from graduating this year. City Manager Cronk only eliminated 65 unfilled slots, but many more are available.
  • Direct the City Manager to sweep overtime budgets for all but highly specialized criminal investigation activities so that unfilled positions are not simply backfilled using overtime, and reinvest at least $10 million in overtime funds to other public safety needs. Austin police enjoy the highest base pay rates in Texas, along with a dozen different kinds of stipends. They can live comfortably on that income.
  • Implement the reforms to how we respond to mental health related calls and stop treating the mentally ill like criminals.
  • Pull the crime lab out of APD and make it independent and civilian controlled. That is a best practice that will improve public safety and move millions from the police budget to another part of the city more oriented to science and data.
  • Address relationship violence with proven strategies that support victims, are civilian led, and can prevent future violence more effectively than the “hammer” of mass incarceration.
  • House the homeless, treat the drug addicted, and divert these populations into necessary services INSTEAD of arresting them.
  • Do common sense things like not sending taxpayer funded police to the thousands of “false alarm” calls generated by security companies, think about whether modern policing really requires horses (very cool, but expensive) and whether taxpayers should foot the bill for officers who drive their squad cars home to far flung places like Temple and Kyle.
  • Eliminate unnecessary military equipment and save money because all that free stuff requires training and upkeep, and its misuse leads to expensive lawsuits. In fact, the cost of depolicing many areas that don’t need armed people on the front line will reduce the cost of lawsuits in general.

This list is just a start. We are about to enter this budget process (the first hearing is July 23rd) and we will keep you up to date as the revised City Manager budget is rolled out and we propose amendments.

Safer standards for use of force.

Resolution 95 did three key things: it limited the situations when lethal force can be used to self-defense or defense of others; it required de-escalation; and it required a police response to be proportionate to both the crime and the behavior of the subject.

Not long after the Council vote, the family of a man named Enrique Quiroz came forward with a statement about Mr. Quiroz’ death on March 31 of this year. Visiting his family, in violation of a court order but without presenting as violent (he was guilty only of alleged trespassing,) he was killed by the police response (his family said he had been invited.) He was unarmed. His death was due to a combination of blows and taser fire, according to family members. When first reported, police said he had a medical condition. His family denies any medical issues.

The Quiroz family spoke passionately that Enrique should not have been killed over an act of trespassing. Larry Jackson Jr. was shot after trying to pass a fake $40 check at a bank window. George Floyd was passing a phony $20. Part of our shock at the video footage from recent protest is the disproportionate nature of the response to the provocation. When we think “police went too far” that’s what we mean.

This is exactly the kind of situation that Council action will address when fully implemented through changes to the General Orders (the rules that decide if a police action was “misconduct.”)

Over the coming months, there will be an open and public dialog lead by Austin’s Office of Police Oversight (an independent agency) to rewrite the General Orders. We will keep you up to date, but we expect big fights over the details. The police union has long controlled how misconduct is defined. As a result, officers are almost never found to have violated the rules of conduct no matter how outlandish or harmful their behavior. Now that the public will be involved, we can change that.

Police training and the new cadet class.

With all these changes to come, it is critically important that the current audit and rewrite of the police training academy slow down and get more serious.

The police department has forced a small group of community volunteers to plough through more than 100 training videos and discuss a dozen different topics. They asked for the underlying curriculum to understand the context for the video content and did not get it. Thanks to Council, this process will now change. Austin CANNOT begin to bring in new cadets under the same old standards and the same old training curricula that we’ve always had.

The deadline for the audit will be extended. After the budget process, and after new general orders are written, new training curricula must be established that train police in the culture we are trying to create, not the one we are trying to eliminate. All this will take time and must be done right. It is likely that no new cadets will graduate from the police academy this fiscal year. That’s ok, especially if we dig deep and finally change the culture that’s being inculcated in our police academy.

In the coming weeks, we will push out actions you can take to make sure your victory this week is permanent and meaningful. Thanks so much for your support. Stick with us! The biggest fights are yet to come.