Save Austin Now says it has collected enough signatures to add its proposal to require certain funding levels for the city’s police department to the November ballot.
The bipartisan advocacy group announced it received more than 25,600 signatures for its latest petition. Once the signatures are verified, a proposed public safety law that requires funding the Austin Police Department will go on the November ballot.
“We are thrilled to ensure our ballot position for the Nov. 2, 2021, election,” Save Austin Now co-founders Matt Mackowiak and Cleo Petricek said in a joint statement. “Austin has never been less safe than it is today and the police staffing crisis continues to worsen. In just 107 days, Austin will become the first major city to overturn defund the police through a citizen vote. Our city supports law enforcement, even if City Hall does not. Our message to [Mayor] Steve Adler and [Council Member] Greg Casar is this: November is coming.”
If approved by voters, the law requires the city to hire more police officers, two per 1,000 citizens, in accordance with nationally recognized “Safe City Standards” defined by the U.S. Justice Department.
It also proposes reforms, including increasing additional post-cadet training hours every year and providing incentives for officers who don’t have public complaints filed against them.
Last year, the city council defunded the police department by one-third of its budget, $150 million, forcing numerous police units to shut down. Officers responding to DWIs, domestic violence, safety and stalking, and criminal interdiction were pulled from serving the public. The move came one year after the city council reversed a law to legalize homeless encampments in nearly all public areas in Austin, resulting in increased crime and a public health crisis.
Both decisions contributed to a violent crime surge crippled by fewer police being able to respond to or deal with crime, Save Austin Now argues, adding that the majority of Austinites don’t agree with the city council’s “extreme policies.”
“We’ve seen a series of city policy decisions over the last two years that have led to a surge in both violent crime and property crime against Austinites,” the group says. “A 300 percent increase in murders this year. A double-digit increase in property crimes such as burglaries and carjackings.”
Response times to 911 calls are now 20–30 minutes on average, and the homicide rate is at a level that “we’ve never really seen here before,” interim Police Chief Joseph Chacon told attendees at a recent lunch held at the Headliner’s Club.
Chacon said he’s met individually with “each council member to explain the dire situation we are in. And I’m going to call it a crisis, because that’s what it is, and they all get it.”
But Save Austin Now argues, “Our do-nothing city council defunded, reluctantly opened a single cadet class, and is now doddering over more while Austinites suffer. Stand with Save Austin Now to AGAIN do what they will not.”
“As Austin’s crime rate has soared, the federal government has taken note of it and sent in resources to help stabilize the chaos,” it adds. “But we cannot rely on the federal government’s Operation Undaunted to provide us with the local resources we’ll need to fight this trend: We’ll have to do it ourselves.”
By Bethany Blankley