No one could have predicted the horrific shooting on 6th Street that shook our community on June 12, leaving one person dead and more than a dozen injured. Not the public, and not the police, who left three of our nine patrol sectors at minimum staffing when they responded to the scene.
That is just one reason the city council’s decision to defund the Austin Police Department is so shortsighted. Just when we need more seasoned officers on the street, and more cadets to replace officers who assume leadership roles, the council’s actions have left Austin’s Police Department with dangerously low staffing levels, shockingly low morale, and an uncertain future.
It has done so when we need a substantial police presence the most. According to the Chief’s Monthly Report in May (pdf), murders are up 79 percent and aggravated assaults are up 15 percent since the same time period last year. It’s unsettling, but vitally important, to consider not just how tragic the events of June 12 were, but also how lucky we were that an unnecessarily thinned police force wasn’t called upon to respond to more than one major incident that day.
In August 2020, the council voted to cut $21.5 million from the police budget and shift another $128 million from the Police Department to other city departments. The past year’s discussions of policing have raised crucial questions. Everyone deserves—and should receive—equal treatment under the law, and we must answer the challenge to honor that right. It’s naive and dangerous to slash budgets and staff in the hopes that fewer police officers will somehow ensure greater public safety.
When I completed the Austin Police Department’s 14-week Citizen Police Academy in 2018, I learned firsthand how our police department operates and how its cadets are trained to protect the rest of us in the most dangerous situations imaginable. In the months that followed my election in December 2020, I have come to wish that more of my fellow council members had done the same. Perhaps if they had taken that same Citizen Police Academy, they would better understand the dangerously corrosive effects of their rush to lead the nation in reducing funding for the men and women who risk their lives for us each day.
As a council member, I believe in fiscal responsibility and measurable value for each public dollar spent. In their lack of forethought, the city council has failed on both counts. More importantly, they have failed Austin and all of us who call it home.
Our police officers need community and resources as well as sufficient staffing levels that make it possible for them to continue ongoing training throughout their careers. Now they have none of these things. Thankfully, my colleagues and I have the opportunity to change that by prioritizing public safety during the upcoming budget process.
Councilwoman Mackenzie Kelly has embraced a lifetime of public service. She is an Austin native, former volunteer firefighter, and public safety advocate. Kelly is the only conservative on an 11-member city council in the 10th-largest city in America.
Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.