Victory: 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. Council and the Mayor got more than 10,000 messages each, thousands of calls and hundreds of personal statements in testimony over two weeks of hearings. The City Manager Spencer Cronk, who usually stays in the background, got more than 2,500 messages through Just Libery’s action alert and was grilled by Council for allowing the leadership to stay in place as the crisis of public confidence grew more acute.

So what did we win, and what do we still need to fight for?

Saved money, safely!

The resolution that garnered the most attention involved divesting police of certain calls that don’t require a “crime fighter” response — like mental health crisis — and moving money to fund the needed alternatives. It directed the City Manager to start by presenting a budget for next year with no new officer positions and eliminating unfilled positions (an estimated 180 officer slots, worth roughly $27 million.)

The resolution did not “defund” police nor at any point was it written to do so. But it did indicate that the City Manager should bring a budget that builds alternatives for many police functions. We will be pushing for a deep dive into all the functions that do not need to be handled by very expensive sworn officers, and policing functions (hint: the crime lab) that would be performed better if pulled out of the police department. The first budget hearing is July 23rd.

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

What would a robust implementation of our victory this week look like? 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 — 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 implement the reforms to how we respond to mental health related calls and stop treating the mentally ill like criminals.
  • We need to 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.
  • We need to 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.
  • We need to house the homeless, treat the drug addicted, and divert these populations into necessary services INSTEAD of arresting them.
  • We need to 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.
  • The elimination of unnecessary military equipment will 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.

This week 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 this week 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. 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, with a goal of completing the “audit” of the Academy by July 1. This false deadline (they were given a total of six weeks) was created by the Chief Manley and Assistant City Manager Rey Arellano before the protests, before the public hearings, and before the new standards for use of force. Chief Manley forced these volunteer through this gruelling process because he continues to insist that a new Police Academy will launch July 15. That is absurd. 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 very next thing that needs to happen: the deadline for the audit must be extended to the fall. 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.

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.