Motorists driving into Austin, Texas are now greeted by series of billboards warning: ‘Austin Police Defunded, Enter At Your Own Risk!’
The signs have been placed at the entrances to the city by the Texas Municipal Police Association.
It came after Austin’s City Council voted to cut the police budget by $150 million – about 34 per cent of its current total.
One of the billboards is placed on the west side of I-35, facing north, and another on the south side of the road.
Kevin Lawrence, executive director of the association, said the decision last month to shift money away from policing and into mental health and social services was putting citizens at risk.
Last week Greg Abbott, the governor of Texas, said he would consider putting the police department under the control of the Texas Department of Public Safety in response to the defunding decision.
Two billboards have appeared at the entrance to Austin, warning of police defunding
The billboards have appeared alongside the Interstate 35, heading north and south
Protesters in Austin call for the defunding of police on July 26 at a rally
Protesters had been gathering in Austin demanding the defunding of the police department
In June demonstrators gathered outside City Hall in Austin to demand the change
‘The safety of Austin citizens and visitors has never been more at risk from dangerous policies propagated by their own locally elected officials,’ said Lawrence.
‘We applaud Governor Abbott’s consideration of a legislative proposal that would put the control of the Austin Police Department under state authority.’
After the death of George Floyd, a black man killed by white Minneapolis police officers on May 25, long-simmering demands for a reassessment of policing budgets nationwide took center stage.
Austin is one of at least 13 cities to vote to defund the police, according to a tally by Forbes – following the leads set by New York City, Los Angeles, Seattle, San Francisco, Baltimore and Washington DC.
In Seattle the police chief, Carmen Best, resigned after a vote last month to cut $3.5 million from the police budget and reinvest over $17 million of their annual funding.
In Austin, of the $150 million cut, $21 million will be invested in emergency medical services, domestic violence shelters and programs for the homeless.
About another $80 million will go into a ‘Decouple Fund’ that will transfer many civilian services, like forensic sciences and victim services, outside of the police department.
The rest of the money, about $49 million, will go into a ‘Reimagine Safety Fund’.
The fund is intended, under the council’s plan, to ‘divert dollars from the fund toward alternative forms of public safety and community support, through the yearlong reimagining process.’
In response to the move by Austin – a decision strongly opposed by the Republican governor – Abbott announced that Austin, and other cities that follow suit, will be barred from raising property taxes.
‘When crime is on the rise, the last thing we should do is defund the police,’ said Abbott, making the announcement at the Bob Bolen Safety Complex – the training facility and headquarters for the Fort Worth fire and police departments.
Greg Abbott, pictured Tuesday in Fort Worth, announced a proposal to discourage defunding
Abbott, in a wheelchair since 26, said cities that defund police couldn’t raise property taxes
He added that any city in the state that defunds police departments will have property tax rates frozen at their current level, according to Fox 26 Houston.
Texas attorney general Ken Paxton said that Austin bowed to ‘cancel culture’ in its decision to defund law enforcement.
‘The unwarranted attack by the Austin mayor and City Council on their police department’s budget is no more than a political haymaker driven by the pressures of ‘cancel culture,” Paxton said in a statement.
‘Unfortunately, the targets of this ‘canceling’ are the brave men and women who selflessly put their lives on the line to keep our families safe.’
Austin has struggled to control crime, violence and homelessness, and the mayor and council disregarded the safety of the capital, the people who live there and the guests who visit, Paxton said.
Austin police, pictured August 1, have had their budget cut by $150 million
Steve Adler, the Democrat mayor of Austin, defended the council’s move, saying it reflected the wishes of the famously liberal city’s residents.
‘This budget responds to concerns expressed all over the community and embodies our values as a city.’ he said.
‘New investment is focused on the underlying causes of crime.’
Adler told CBS News that Austin is the safest big city in Texas.
‘I mean you could have a 50 per cent increase in homicides in Austin and you still wouldn’t get up to where Fort Worth is, a smaller city than we are,’ he said.
The period of January through June this year saw roughly the same amount of crime as last year in Austin.
The Austin Justice Coalition reported that the number of crimes in Austin declined around 4.1 per cent in 2020, compared to the first half of the previous year – from 52,323 reported in 2019, to 50,170 in the first half of 2020.
In August the Wall Street Journal reported that Austin had the biggest increase nationwide in homicides during the pandemic.
The Justice Coalition said there had been a ‘slight uptick’ in violent crimes during the studied period — from 1,694 between January and June 2019 to 1,819 in the same period this year — but said it was statistically not overly concerning.
The increase represented a 7.4 per cent rise, or a numerical increase of only 125 instances, Patch reported.
They argued the increase in a city of nearly a million people was nominal.
‘When crime is low and there are very few crimes in total, a small numerical increase can result in what looks like a big percentage jump,’ Austin Justice Coalition officials noted.
‘In fact, these numbers tell us that violent crime remains low in Austin.
It is also worth noting that violent crime makes up less than 4 per cent of all crime in Austin.’