Texas Cities Consider Budget And Policy Changes As They Struggle To Reform Policing

In Austin, two council members called for the police chief’s resignation. In Houston, budget cuts have been proposed.

By Jill Ament & Rhonda FanningJune 8, 2020 1:47 pm,

The protests against police brutality in the wake of the May 25 death of George Floyd have forced local governments in Texas and nationwide to find ways to reform their own police departments. 

Floyd, 46, died after a Minneapolis police officer kept his knee on Floyd’s neck for nearly nine minutes during an arrest. Since then, Americans have marched in cities demanding that cities re-examine how their police departments operate, particularly when it comes to officers’ use of force during arrests and the disciplining of officers when complaints of excessive force during arrests, arise.

Reporters from three Texas cities talked with Texas Standard host David Brown on Monday about local reform efforts.

In Austin, KUT public radio reporter Audrey McGlinchy said the use of less-than-lethal weapons – tear gas, pepper spray or bean-bag ammunition – has now been halted after several protestors were seriously hurt a week ago. Austin Police Chief Brian Manley said these rounds would no longer be shot into crowds of people after an emergency city hall meeting.  McGlinchy said council members wanted more from their police chief.

At that emergency meeting, two council members called for Manley’s resignation, while others encouraged the police department to make immediate changes, or they too, would seek Manley’s resignationl. The council does not have the power to fire Manley, only to demote him, McGlinchy said. 

Houston Chronicle reporter Dylan McGuinness says police in Houson had generally been praised by council members for their response to massive protests. A recent incident in which shots were fired by officers near a police station has raised questions, though, as have renewed calls for more disclosure about officers’ role in six earlier police shootings in the city that remain under investigation 

McGuinness said Houston’s city budget is slated to be approved next week. That budget includes a $19 million increase for the Houston Police Department and some residents want to see some of its police budget redirected to housing or social programs. 

“The biggest proposal… comes from Council Member Letitia Plummer. It’s a pretty far-reaching plan that would eliminate 199 vacant positions in the police department and redirect that roughly $12 million to a wide slew of reforms,” McGuinness said.

Dallas police were criticized for their use of force during the protests, particularly when they boxed protesters in on a local bridge. Cassandra Jaramillo, who covers the police department for The Dallas Morning News said the department became more communicative after that incident, including explaining a curfew that had been enacted, and providing warnings to protesters the police believed were becoming unruly.

“We never saw anything really escalate after what we saw Monday night,” Jaramillo said, referring to the bridge incident.

Police Chief Renee Hall faced questions from the Dallas council members last week, and some residents called for her resignation during the eight-hour meeting. 

Council members discussed the possibility of moving money out of the police budget and into social programs. 

Protests continue in all three cities.

Web story by Shelly Brisbin.

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