Texas Governor Announces Plan to Place Austin Police Under State Control

Texas Governor Announces Plan to Place Austin Police Under State Control
Texas Governor Greg Abbott announces the reopening of more Texas businesses during the COVID-19 pandemic at a press conference at the Texas State Capitol in Austin on May 18, 2020. (Lynda M. Gonzalez/Pool/Getty Images)
Bill Pan

Legislation to place the Austin Police Department under state control has been drafted for lawmakers to consider in the coming January session, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott announced Monday.

The Republican governor wrote on Twitter Monday afternoon that the Legislative Council has sent “draft language” for a proposed law that would transfer control of the Austin Police Department (APD) to the Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) “just in time for Christmas.”

“One way or another we will pass a law to keep Austin safe,” Abbott wrote.

According to the draft obtained by KXAN-TV, the takeover would only apply to municipalities with populations of 950,000 or more and a ratio of fewer than two police officers per 1,000 residents, for which the governor needs to issue a written document declaring a public safety threat due to insufficient funding for police.

Under the bill, municipalities that are taken over to DPS would have to pay for the law enforcement services. They would also not be allowed to perform their own law enforcement after the takeover.

Earlier this month, Abott told his supporters during a tele-town hall that he was considering a state takeover of the policing responsibilities of a large portion of Austin that covers downtown, the state capitol, and the University of Texas at Austin. He said the city’s effort to defund its police force has led to a rise in violent crime.

In August, the Austin City Council unanimously voted to cut its police department budget by one-third, or $150 million. The decision was made in response to multiple incidents, including a fatal police shooting of Mike Ramos, a black man who was killed at a parking lot by APD officers looking for a man in a car with a gun and possibly drugs. The APD later revealed that Ramos was unarmed.

“We have people coming from across the world and across the country into our capital city, as well as to the university, we can’t make our fellow Texans be victims of crime because of the city of Austin leadership,” Abbott said at that time. “So what I think we need to do is have a Capitol zone area that the state will be in charge of policing, and we can use city of Austin police officers for this.”

“We can make sure that area is extra safe for anybody who’s walking around downtown, walking around the Capitol, walking around the university,” Abbott said.