Update as of 8/15 at 4:39 p.m.:
Austin Police Chief Brian Manley hosted a virtual media briefing Thursday about the new budget passed by the Austin City Council, saying the budget cuts would result in fundamental changes to the department’s structure and operation.
With the reduction of 150 police officer positions, Manley said the department will go back to the staffing level they held in 2015.
“Our patrol has always been our priority,” Manley said. “Although we have been challenged over the last couple of years with response times not meeting our goal, we will ensure our patrol bureau is staffed accordingly.”
Manley said certain units, such as the forensics lab, 911 and internal affairs, may be modeled after another city’s structure or cut from the department entirely.
“Oftentimes, police officers are sent to situations for which we are not always the best trained or best equipped,” Manley said. “We have wanted that alternative response, especially those calls involving mental health, so I look forward to our improvement in our mental health services.”
Manley also said the idea of “demolishing and remodeling” APD has been under consideration for a while.
“We have gone through exercises in the past to see what a new headquarters will look like,” Manley said. “It just never came to fruition. As long as we can find (an) adequate location and space for us, then we would stand ready to participate in the process.”
Austin City Council unanimously approved Austin’s annual fiscal budget Thursday, redistributing $150 million in cuts from the Austin Police Department budget.
“Our community knows that the status quo isn’t working, and they demand a change,” council member Greg Casar said after the budget was approved. “We know we have a really long way to go.”
The council decreased APD’s $434 million budget by nearly 35%, according to the Immediate Community Investments and Reimagining Plan. The plan separated departments, including Forensic Science Services, 911 Call Center and Internal Affairs, from APD and reallocated about $21 million to non-APD services, including Family Support Services and Victim Services.
Hundreds of citizens registered to speak to council members for a public hearing Wednesday in support of the budget cuts, according to the city clerk’s office. Many citizens called into the council’s meeting demanding reform for APD, citing the shooting and killing of Michael Ramos by an APD officer in April.
Nearly $50 million were taken out of the Reimagine Safety Fund, which included police training and recruitment, and reallocated “toward alternative forms of public safety and community support, through the yearlong reimagining process,” according to the plan.
“We’re trying to make a bold step towards change,” Casar said during the budget adoption reading Wednesday. “I’m proud to be a part of this group that is on the right side of this issue … being thoughtful and deliberative, and sometimes being uncomfortable about doing more than we’ve ever thought before.”
Chas Moore, the founder of the Austin Justice Coalition, has advocated for a budget reduction of $100 million to APD, according to the Austin American-Statesman.
“For many people that look like me and many people in the Brown community, things are chaotic because of people that wear a uniform and have a badge and a gun,” Moore said in his testimony to the council. “This is a small and big step at the same time and now it is on us — the community — to reimagine public safety and police.”
Anne Daly-Lesch, a member of District 5 for Black Lives, said her organization demanded delaying the vote no sooner than Friday. Daly-Lesch also proposed a budget that moves at least $105 million out of policing and into “real solutions,” such as affordable housing and public and mental health resources.
“Our community cannot possibly understand and digest the proposed police budget in less than 24 hours,” Daly-Lesch said. “The current budget proposal only includes $23 million in immediate cuts and reallocation. The remaining $127 million is divided into funds that APD will still have access to.”
Cary Roberts, a Greater Austin Crime Commission member, was a part of a minority of public testimonies opposing budget cuts to APD.
“We support reform and reinvestment, but not sacrificing public safety for political expediency,” Roberts said.
The new budget will go into effect Oct. 1, and the city will shift the $150 million out of APD’s budget over the next year.
In a written resolution from June, Delia Garza, council member and mayor pro tem established the goal to have zero police killings by 2023.
“We all want a safer Austin,” Garza said. “We have to admit that people don’t have the same experiences in this city and in this country.”