Austin, Texas has become the latest city to begin the process of fundamentally transforming its police force on Thursday. As local news channel, KUT reports, city council members voted unanimously on four items related to the Austin Police Department's $400 million budget, which will include diverting roughly one-quarter of the funds to social services as well as banning the use of some potentially deadly practices.
"I want to make sure the public knows this is no victory lap at all," Mayor Pro Tem Delia Garza said. "The harder work is way ahead of us." The vote was held after more than eight hours of public testimony spread out over two days, largely calling for a defunding of the police force. Of the four items, one requests that money previously allocated to police be used to fund mental health services and audit police misconduct. Some positions within the APD could be moved to other city departments, including Public Health and Parks and Recreation.
Specifics won't be worked out until October when the council begins planning its budget for the next fiscal year. However, there were a few vocal opponents of the measure, including APD Detective Issa Kafena. "These rushed resolutions before the council are designed to perpetuate what the council fears most — an understaffed, overworked, undertrained and unappreciated police department that will be ill-equipped to adequately protect and serve the citizens of Austin," she argued.
APD Chief Brian Manley was also hesitant to get on board with some other policy bans, particularly reducing its stockpile of military-grade equipment. "I absolutely understand the intent of a police department that is community-focused and community-centered," Manley said. Though he argued that in the event of a mass shooter, the police "have to maintain that ability to keep our community safe should we come under that type of attack." KUT also notes two Austin City Council members had previously called for Manley's resignation in light of the APD's handling of the ongoing civil rights protests calling for an end to police brutality.
The department had also found itself the subject of criticism on Twitter after the office Twitter account posted some photos showing police reading 'Thank You' cards they claimed were sent from Austinites. However, as quite a few people pointed out, the envelopes lacked postage and all seemed to have strikingly similar handwriting, leading to accusations of them being staged.