Austin city council approves budget that moves $150M out of the Austin Police Department

State News

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Austin City Council voted unanimously to adopt the city’s 2020-21 budget Thursday as amended, setting the course for a fundamental shift in how policing and public safety are carried out in the city. Council had been going through the budget adoption process since Wednesday morning.

The newly approved budget will move around $150 million dollars from the Austin Police Department and into other areas of public health and safety over the course of the next year. The new fiscal year starts on October 1, but the budget sets up a framework for rolling out changes to dramatically restructure policing in the city which will continue incrementally long after that time. The budget will also halt APD cadet classes for the time being as an audit into training materials and efforts to revise curriculum continue.

An overview depicting the changes to the Austin Police Department budget Austin City Council approved August 13, 2020. Information based on details confirmed with the City of Austin. (KXAN Graphic/ Andy Davis).

As movements nationwide — and within Austin — continue to press for racial justice and transformation in policing, many eyes were on the council’s decisions.

The changes to the proposed budget happened quickly over the past few days and the specifics of what council did and didn’t approve are being sorted out. City spokespeople confirm that the budget council approved mirrors the proposal for removing dollars and duties from Austin Police that council members highlighted in their recent plan.

The budget includes $20 million which will be immediately reallocated from APD (in areas such as cadet funding and overtime) starting October 1 and reinvested in other areas of public health and safety (such as permanent supportive housing, ATCEMS COVID-19 response, and workforce development).

An overview depicting the $20 million dollars Austin City Council approved August 13, 2020 to be immediately reallocated to other areas of public health and safety. Information based on details confirmed with the City of Austin. (KXAN Graphic/ Andy Davis).

The budget tasks city staff with moving a number of functions previously held under APD (totaling to around $80 million) such as Forensics Services and the 9-1-1 Call Center into other city departments over the next year. These programs would not be cut, just transitioned to other departments besides APD.

The budget also tasks city staff with diverting almost $50 million from the Austin Police Budget to a “Reimagine Safety Fund” over the course of the next year. That fund would then be used to support “alternative forms of public safety and community support.”

In total, if city staff is able to meet the timeline laid out in the budget, the city will transition $150 million out of the Austin Police Department budget over the course of the next year. City staff have emphasized that the “reimagining of public safety” going on in Austin will require additional time and effort this year to complete.

Demonstrators stand outside of the Texas Capitol on June 7, 2020, holding signs calling for defunding of the Austin Police Department. (KXAN Photo/ Alyssa Goard).

Council has directed the city manager to return to council no later than March 2021 to amend the public safety budget again after the public has had more of a chance to weigh in.IN DEPTH: Austin City Council uniting around plan to transition more funds, duties out of APD 

The budget adoption also comes at a time when both the Council and city staff have promised transformative changes to the way Austin handles public safety.

How the budget has changed

The $150 million that would be moved out of APD over the course of the year is a change from the proposed budget City Manager Spencer Cronk presented to council in July.

Earlier this year, in April, the city proposed $445 million for APD for FY 2020-21. After the protests and council resolutions calling for police reform, the proposed budget for APD Cronk brought forth in July was reduced to $434 million, reflecting the $11.3 million reallocations into other departments and services.

Last fiscal year, APD operated with a roughly $434 million budget. That mean’s Cronk’s proposed APD FY21 budget in July was around $151,000 less than APD’s proposed FY20 budget.

Cronk also announced in the July budget proposal that, as the council has directed, the FY21 budget will cut existing APD vacancies that “cannot be reasonably filled within the next year” and will “not add additional officers in FY21 as originally envisioned in the five-year police staffing plan.”

A city spokesperson confirmed for KXAN Thursday that the budget approved by city council eliminates 150 vacant police officer positions: 70 vacancies cut in Cronk’s proposed budget plus another 80 cut by council. As the city manager has noted, these changes will not create a reduction in “boots on the ground” though city staff has acknowledged that through attrition the department may ultimately see lower staffing levels.

“With the elimination of these positions, the Austin Police Department is projected to begin FY21 with zero unfilled sworn positions,” a city spokesperson explained.

Cadet classes cancelled

A city spokesperson clarified to KXAN that the budget does not include funding for APD cadet classes, meaning that at this point all APD cadet classes are canceled, including the planned cadet classes for November 2020, March 2021, and June 2021.

However, council also provided direction in the budget which notes that cadets may have an important role in bringing change to the Austin Police Department. While the council agreed it is supportive of using the full funding from cutting all three cadet classes to reinvest in other areas of public safety, the council said it also believes “we should not rule out the possibility that one or two of those classes might still yet begin in FY 21 depending on factors such as having a revised curriculum successfully completed and an appropriate recruitment program available. “

An Austin Police Cadet class runs in Austin. KXAN Photo.

The council also noted that future decisions on cadet classes should take into account modified requirements for the police force “as we learn how many police positions are needed as this reimagining work is realized.”

A city spokesperson clarified that the possibility of holding a cadet class in 2021 will depend on a number of factors which the city will reassess throughout the year.

As of earlier this week, APD told KXAN it was still planning for its 144th Cadet Class to start on November 23, 2020.

APD cadet classes have been put on pause following a third-party investigation into alleged racism and homophobia in the department earlier this year, as well as an ongoing audit of training materials at APD’s training academy which council called for.

APD told KXAN that this audit of APD training videos is not expected to be complete until November 9, which council members say means that it is unlikely new training material can be ready for a November cadet class. There are typically three APD cadet classes in a given year, city staff says.

Austin police cadets at their graduation on July 8, 2016 (KXAN Photo_Alicia Inns)_309795
APD cadets at their graduation on July 8, 2016 (KXAN/Alicia Inns)

All the council members seem to be in agreement in calling for the November cadet class to be put on hold.

Pausing APD cadet classes further is something that APD Chief Brian Manley has cautioned against.

At a council budget work session last week, Manley said, “if we were to follow through with some of these proposals with the delay of cadet classes, I do believe this really represents one of the greatest threats to the safety of our community.”

Manley told the council that if all three cadet classes were canceled, he believes the department would see vacancy levels by January 2022 that would leave the department staffed to the level it was staffed at back in 2012.

“The staffing implications of not moving forward with hiring would be significant on many fronts,” Manley said. “We already do not meet our goals for response times on our priority zero, priority one, calls — which is a critical performance measure for us.”

At that budget work session, Austin’s Chief Deputy Financial Officer Ed Van Eenoo said that if all three cadet classes were cut, there would be 80 vacant positions and a combined savings for the city of $10 million.

Van Eeenoo noted that these cuts to cadet classes would result in “savings” for the city, but also “consequences.”

Last week, council members did not appear heartened to hear Manley’s pushback against pausing further cadet classes.

“I am tired of dealing with department heads who fight council,” Flannigan said, referring to Manley’s language as “fear mongering.”

Garza said that Manley’s cautions against cutting cadet classes “makes so many assumptions that we would keep everything the same.”

“We have a whole year, more than a full year until January of 2022,” Garza noted at the meeting last week, saying that Manley’s comments were making her “lose hope.”

Harper-Madison said at last week’s meeting that she wants to continue to explore what it would look like to not have 2021 cadet classes.

To Manley’s points about the threats he believes pausing cadet classes would pose to public safety, Harper-Madison challenged him, asking what the cost would be of not making these dramatic changes to policing.

“What is the cost of continuing to put people in positions of power who take lives?” she asked. “Some of these things you can’t quantify. You can’t quantify the value of a life, you can’t quantify the value of the manifestation of the trauma people go through when they have law enforcement officers who engage in misconduct.”

“We could avoid that by at the very beginning having the kind of department that doesn’t attract people that will engage in misconduct,” Harper-Madison continued.

The proposal from council

Austin police officers stand guard outside the department’s headquarters on May 31, 2020 as protesters demonstrate from the sidewalk. (KXAN Photo/Jody Barr)

Over the past few days, the council has coalesced around a proposal comprised of amendments and riders from all members of the council aiming to reform public safety.

The proposal, if passed in its current form, would immediately move $21.5 million (updated total as of August 12 at noon) from APD funding to other areas of public health and safety.

The $21.5 million would be dependent on cancelling APD’s November, March 2021, and June 2021 cadet classes. While all 11 council members have indicated the November class should be canceled, they are not in agreement on whether all three classes should be.

If passed in its current form, the proposal would transition more than $150 million from the Austin Police Department into other departments and programs over the next year.

Council Member Greg Casar posted on the message board Wednesday morning, noting he had updated the Google Doc in order to include recurring funding for Austin Public Health, an equity in policing technology amendment, and the workforce development amendment at $1.37 million. Casar also noted that changes had been made to the proposal that at $1.9 million instead of $2.9 million, city staff says Austin can purchase a new records management system on time as long as Austin makes up that $1 million over the coming months either through savings or the “Reimagine Fund.”

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