Note: What follows are highlights of an interview with Austin Mayor Steve Adler. He does not support a Texas Department of Public Safety takeover of the Austin Police Department. Texas Standard will continue to bring you more on this evolving story.
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott wants Texas politicians running in November elections to sign a pledge not to “defund” local police departments. Announcement of the pledge came after Abbott said last week that he was considering legislation to put the city of Austin’s police department under the control of the Texas Department of Public Safety. The Austin City Council recently voted to cut $150 million from its police department, and redirect some of that money toward social services.
So-called police department defunding has been a rallying cry by many who have protested against systemic racism and violence against Black Americans by police.
Austin Mayor Steve Adler told Texas Standard that he doesn’t support defunding the police, but he also doesn’t believe that’s what the city of Austin has done.
“I think the governor is reacting to something that we did not do,” Adler said. “There was a large pocket of $50 million that we said we just wanted to take a look at to see whether or not those kind of police functions should remain as police functions. So when I hear the political debate talking about the city of Austin cutting or defunding the police budget, it’s really very different from what we did.”
On changes the city of Austin made to its police budget:
In an over $400 million budget, we really voted to cut about $20 million, or about 4%. There were some other police functions that we wanted to keep going, not take any money away from at all but thought that it might be good to have some civilian or independent oversight like the forensic lab or internal affairs.
Here are details about cuts and changes to Austin Police Department’s budget.
Why he doesn’t support Abbott’s pledge:
The pledge itself seems to be another kind of political move, and casting an impression which is not true. And I think that that’s dangerous and stops us from having the important discussions about public safety that we should be happening, and I think that it’s an effort to divert attention away from what is the greatest public safety crisis we have right now, which is the virus.
On a possible DPS takeover of the Austin Police Department:
I’ve been advised that that kind of takeover of police and takeover of local tax dollars is something that’s not legal. But I’ve been spending most of my times not on that proposal but rather focused on the public safety in this community and making sure that – making sure that we maintain our position as the safest big city in Texas and one of the safest big cities in the country.
Read more about potential legislation that could put DPS in charge of APD.
On reports that crime is rising in Austin:
That story in the Wall Street Journal … [does] point out that Austin had one of the greatest percent increases in homicides, but yet, that same article pointed out that Austin had the second-lowest number of homicides in the entire country. And when you have a very small number of homicides, which we’re lucky and blessed to have in this city, when you add just a few to that, the percentage increase seems rather large. … It also listed Houston and Dallas and San Antonio and Fort Worth, all of those cities had a greater number of homicides than did the city of Austin.
Read and listen to our recent interview with Terry Keel, an assistant commissioner at the Texas Department of Agriculture, who is a proponent of the Texas Department of Public Safety taking over the Austin Police Department.