It’s an ignominious distinction. In a year where almost every major American city is experiencing a surge in violent crime, Austin, Texas is leading the race to the bottom.
According to The Wall Street Journal, Austin’s homicides are up 64 percent over 2019 — well more than second place in the ignominious contest, Chicago, which saw a 52 percent rise.
No other major city came close to 50 percent. Overall, the analysis of the United State’s 50 largest cities showed a 24 percent increase across the board.
“I was surprised at the consistency of the increase across all of the different cities,” said Jens Ludwig, director of the University of Chicago’s Crime Lab.
“Anecdotally, many police departments point to a rising tide of gang violence, in which rival groups of mainly young offenders battle over control of neighborhoods, catching rivals and innocents in the process,” the article published Sunday read.
“Schools let out young adults in March because of the pandemic and after-school activities largely stopped. Churches and other social institutions were restrained for the sake of social distancing. Police first were hit by coronavirus and then blowback in the neighborhoods they patrol after the killing in Minneapolis of George Floyd, a Black man, while in police custody.”
#Austin leads the country in percentage change for homicides compared to the previous year. @Officer_Bino said it best: This is not the list we want to be on https://t.co/gV7A4iPI3v pic.twitter.com/7VWW0lfTBb
— Lt Eve Stephens (@apdevestephens) August 3, 2020
Austin’s KVUE-TV noted that “out of all the cities this analysis compares, Austin generally sees considerably fewer murders.”
“And according to city press releases and online crime data, Austin homicides appear to be evening out through July. Through the end of July, the APD had put out media releases for 28 homicides … and had put out 23 through the end of July last year, amounting to an increase of about 20%.”
But still, homicides are up by an astounding 64 percent. One hopes Austin has it figured out. A quick look at how the Austin City Council has treated law enforcement, however, isn’t reassuring.
Let’s go back to June 11, when the council met virtually to discuss a number of proposals dealing with law enforcement.
There’s hardly a major city across these United States where the government didn’t have some sort of “reckoning” in the weeks following the death of George Floyd while in Minneapolis police custody. Austin’s response was fairly pro forma, as these things go — unfortunately.
According to KVUE, two weeks after violent protests gripped the city, the council passed a set of five resolutions aimed at police reform: “[s]et a goal of zero racial disparities in traffic stops and arrests,” “[c]reate a Public Safety Committee from the existing Judicial Committee,” “[d]irect City Manager Spencer Cronk to recommend policies that reduce the look-back period for vetting rental applications for a prospective tenant with a criminal history,” “[p]rohibit the use of chokeholds and no-knock warrants and reduce the use of militarized equipment by APD” and “[r]emove funding from the upcoming year’s City budget for hiring additional APD officers or acquiring equipment like beanbag rounds, rubber bullets and tear gas.”
And that wasn’t all that came out of the city council meeting, according to KEYE-TV.
“In upcoming budget talks for the next fiscal year, city council aims to reallocate a significant portion of APD funding to other community programs. Some council members have said they support reallocating about 24 percent — or $100M — of the department’s more than $400M budget,” the station reported.
“For me this is not taking away anything from anybody. This is about right-sizing our response to a public health, a mental health, a housing crisis,” Austin Mayor Pro Tem Delia Garza said.
Whoever first coined “right-sizing” as a cheerful euphemism for layoffs or cuts, I hope you’re happy with yourself and what you’ve wrought. This is defunding, no matter how many smiley-face emojis you want to put after it.
Anyhow, so far, so Seattle. But once the stone gets rolling, it becomes difficult to stop it. According to the Austin American-Statesman, on July 27, several city council members floated ideas to further disempower police — even as the crime spike continued apace.
“[Council Member Greg] Casar suggested three amendments to the city’s proposed budget that would remove internal affairs and forensics from the Police Department and shift money from previously scheduled police cadet classes to programs that prevent violence and other harm in the city,” the Statesman reported. “Such programs could include family violence shelters, homeless services, and housing and mental health care, among others.”
“These three initial amendments alone would have a $40 million impact — and combined with amendments proposed by my colleagues and future amendments from me — we can reach an over $100 million change in the police budget toward progressive change,” Casar told his constituents in an email.
Council Member Leslie Pool, meanwhile, floated the idea that $41.5 million could be saved by not filling unfilled positions in the Austin Police Department ranks as well as canceling that year’s cadet class.
Finally, there was Council Member Jimmy Flannigan. I want you to pay special attention to how the newspaper described his proposals before we go into how he described his proposals.
“Flannigan proposed a plan to reconstruct police operations into separate departments with independent department heads and civilian executive leadership in the city manager’s office,” the American-Statesman reported.
“His second proposal was to move Austin police headquarters out of its downtown building and into other city space that is underutilized. Flannigan said the building could be used to address historical economic inequities in Austin’s Black community.”
The paper described his first proposal accurately: It’s not worth going into the particular details of it here, but he would “shift more than $90 million from under the control of sworn leadership to civilian leadership and allow for each department to have separate metrics and oversight, thereby creating a way to shift organizational culture and drive outcomes.”
It’s the characterization of the second proposal that misses a key part: “The building that houses APD HQ and formerly housed the Municipal Court has long been known to be beyond the end of it’s useful life. We should expedite the demolition of the APD Headquarters by directing the City Manager to move all remaining APD staff out of the existing headquarters building and into other underutilized city facilities.” [Emphasis mine.]
So no, the building would not be used “to address historical economic inequities in Austin’s Black community.” It’d be demolished and the police department would be shifted into “other underutilized city facilities.”
Where these facilities are, whether they would allow the police to keep in logistical contact with each other and how this would help address those inequalities — not addressed. Also unaddressed: Whether or not a renovation of the building might be more sensible, or how much it would cost to demolish.
None of these are proposals as of yet, mind you. They are, however, ideas that members of the Austin City Council were willing to float in a public forum as murders have spiked 64 percent year-over-year in their city.
If one is to glimpse the macro of the left’s movement to defund and restructure police inside the micro Austin’s example, we should be genuinely horrified.
These aren’t proposals a city should be considering when crime is down. When murders have skyrocketed 64 percent and these are Austin’s solutions, it’s impossible to take this seriously.
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