Population: 961,855 in 2020
Type of government: City
In 2020, the Austin City Council approved reallocating over $150 million of the city’s police department budget over the course of FY 2020-2021. Council members voted to reallocate about $21 million immediately by reducing overtime expenses, postponing new cadet classes, eliminating 100 vacant police officer positions, delaying the replacement of duty weapons, and transferring the staff for a centralized events permitting center to another city department. They also reinvested another $20 million from other sources in communities, including permanent supportive housing and services, violence prevention, family violence support, emergency medical services COVID-19 response, substance use programs, job programs, and other programs.1
They further removed $76.6 million from the police department budget by transferring a number of functions to other departments, including the forensics lab,2 911 call center, certain support staff, and internal affairs.3 They created a “mental health services” option for people to choose when calling 911, which would divert many calls about people in mental distress to a non-police crisis team or EMS.4
The City Council also created a Reimagine Safety Fund of $45.1 million of that reallocated funding. A task force was created to facilitate a community engagement process to determine how to use the funding.5
In the aftermath of these budget decisions, Austin faced an intense backlash to this effort to reimagine how it resources public safety, both locally and at the state legislature. A group named Save Austin Now, co-chaired by the Travis County GOP Chairperson and supported by the Austin Police Association president, sponsored a local ballot measure designed to compel Austin to hire more police officers according to a staffing ratio fixed to the population. The ballot measure, known as Proposition A, was defeated in November of 2021, opposed by more than 68% of voters.6 Also in response to Austin's budget changes, the Texas legislature passed a law to severely penalize municipalities that decrease police budgets. This required Austin to increase its FY21-22 police budget by returning the forensic lab and 911 call center to the police department.7
1 Greg Casar, “FAQ: Austin’s Police Budget Transformation,” August 19, 2020, https://gregoriocasar.medium.com/faq-austins-police-budget-transformation-38c0f6490c66; How Six Cities Across America Are Addressing Police Transformation (National Institute for Criminal Justice Reform, 2020), https://nicjr.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/10/Six-Cities-Report.pdf; “Reimagining Public Safety: Task Force,” austintexas.gov, accessed December 1, 2021, https://austintexas.gov/publicsafety/task-force.
4 “Mental Health Option Added to 9-1-1,” Reimagining Public Safety blog, February 12, 2021, http://austintexas.gov/blog/mental-health-option-added-9-1-1; Jordan Bontke, “Mental Health Services Added to Austin’s 911 Call Center Script,” CBS Austin, February 8, 2021, https://cbsaustin.com/news/local/mental-health-services-added-to-austins-911-call-center-script.
5 “Reimagining Public Safety: Task Force,” austintexas.gov, accessed December 1, 2021, https://austintexas.gov/publicsafety/task-force; Austin City-Community Reimagining Public Safety Task Force: 2021 Mid-Year Recommendations Report, http://austintexas.gov/sites/default/files/files/Completed%20RPS%20Taskforce%20Mid-Year%20Recommendations%20Report.pdf.
6 Audrey McGlinchy, “Austin voters strongly reject Prop A, which would have required hiring hundreds more police,” KUT, November 2, 2021, https://www.kut.org/politics/2021-11-02/austin-voters-strongly-reject-prop-a-which-would-have-required-hiring-hundreds-more-police.
7 Audrey McGlinchy, “Austin Passes $4.5 Billion Budget, Increases Police Budget Per State Law,” KUT, August 12, 2021, https://www.kut.org/austin/2021-08-12/austin-passes-4-5-billion-budget-increases-police-budget-per-state-law.