AUSTIN, Texas — After Save Austin Now, a political action committee based in Austin, submitted more than 25,600 signatures for an initiative to be put on the ballot, the PAC said the City of Austin has certified the petition.
Save Austin Now said Aug. 3 that the City has certified 25,786 signatures of the 27,778 filed. The drive for the petition began on May 26.
Through the ballot item, the PAC is aiming to pass an ordinance in regard to Austin Police Department staffing. It would require a minimum of two police officers per 1,000 population and it would require an additional 40 hours of post-cadet class training hours per year.
The ordinance, if passed, would also include provisions to boost minority hiring (through foreign language proficiency), ensure racially diverse community policing and provide retention bonuses for officers without police complaints.
Some local and state organization leaders oppose the petition, according to a press release. The release said city services including EMS, mental health care and parks services "could be devastated by the ballot effort."
“This petition lifts up one kind of public safety worker over all others and guarantees that Austin will only be able to fund the police department,” Carol Guthrie, business manager for AFSCME local 1624, said in a release. “We need to hire all kinds of different types of staff, from park rangers to EMS and fire personnel, and this petition means cuts to those departments will need to be made.”
“Today, broad and diverse organizations from across the community are coming together to highlight the severe cuts to services that would happen if this far right-wing proposal passes,” Sukyi McMahon, senior policy director of the Austin Justice Coalition, said. “A comprehensive approach to public safety is necessary, and this latest petition supported by wealthy Republican elites like Gov. Greg Abbott is not the answer.”
Austin Interim Police Chief Joseph Chacon has previously told KVUE that the APD is experiencing a "staffing crisis."
"We've had many officers that are retiring. They're retiring at record rates, and we have many that are resigning. And that is causing us to make shifts in the way that we are delivering police services, including having to suspend operations in many critical non-patrol units in order to send those officers back to patrol," Chacon said in June when APD's cadet class restarted.
The newest cadet class is training under a "reimagined" academy.
"This class represents a significant shift in the way that we conduct our cadet training, moving from a military or paramilitary-style environment in our academy into one that is resilience-based, that is grounded in active learning components and an adult learning environment," Chacon said.
The petition will now be up to Austin voters on the November 2021 ballot.
Austin Mayor Steve Adler and Councilmember Greg Casar said the petition is a “far-right-wing police mandate” that would slash funds for City services including EMS, mental health care and parks services.
Last week, the PAC threatened legal action if its petition was not certified.
“The 2:1000 metric isn’t a best practice," former City Councilmember and former University of Texas professor who conducts police staffing studies Bill Spelman said in an opposing release. "It was a rule of thumb applied in the past when APD was responding to more calls and more crimes than they are today. Then, you add the requirement for all officers to have 35% of their time free for some undefined ‘community engagement,’ and there could be no limit to the number of officers APD could demand each budget cycle.”
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