The Austin City Council on Thursday slashed close to $150 million from the city’s police department budget, after calls to defund the police from Black Lives Matter activists.
“We did this in response to overwhelming and unprecedented community input. This is truly the people’s budget,” Councilwoman Natasha Harper-Madison wrote in a social media statement after the vote.
Councilman Gregorio Casar said the council voted to reduce the police department’s budget and reinvest the money “into our community’s safety and well-being.”
He referenced Black Lives Matter activists as a driving force behind the defunding approval.
Councilman Jimmy Flannigan told residents in a blog post that the department’s budget has nearly doubled in the past 10 years while the city’s population has grown by 30 percent.
“The department also represents the largest part of the city’s tax-supported general fund by a wide margin—a gigantic bureaucracy that has reached unsustainable levels. Also more than double is the number of officer service calls where there was no report at all, as well as the over 90% of building alarms where officers responded that were just false alarms,” he wrote.
City councilmembers in Austin are officially nonpartisan.
Austin was the 11th most populous city in the nation as of 2016, according to U.S. Census data.
The vote reduced the Austin Police Department’s budget from $434 million to $290 million, or by 33 percent.
The defunding came in three parts: cutting funding directly by axing some cadet classes and overtime, which reduced funding by approximately $20 million; moving some functions to outside the department, including the 911 call center, which cut about $80 million; and creating a safety fund that will divert nearly $50 million from the department “toward alternative forms of public safety and community support,” according to the City Council.
City Manager Spencer Cronk said in a statement that the budget “takes us forward as a city” but warned that “we’ll have to come back and make adjustments, not only because of the COVID-19 pandemic, but because of our desire to truly reimagine public safety.”
The Austin Police Department didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.
The Austin Police Association, a police union, said before the vote that the budget proposals “continue to become more ridiculous and unsafe for Austinites.”
“They are going to ignore the majority who do not want the police defunded. The community will need help @ the Capitol,” the group said in a statement.
Republican Gov. Greg Abbott also decried the move, writing in a statement: “Austin’s decision puts the brave men and women of the Austin Police Department and their families at greater risk, and paves the way for lawlessness.”
According to the governor, the state Department of Public Safety will help protect Austin, the state capitol.
A number of cities have opted in recent months to slash funding for police agencies.
Seattle lawmakers on Monday cut nearly $4 million from the city’s police department, prompting the resignation of the police chief. The Los Angeles City Council last month approved cutting $150 million to the LAPD. The New York City City Council around the same time slashed some $1 billion from the city’s police agency. And the Portland City Council in June approved cutting at least $15 million from the city’s police bureau.