Austin, Texas – Three years after mass protests against police violence and racial injustice spurred the now-defunct Reimagining Public Safety initiative, City Council on Wednesday voted 10-1 to approve the Fiscal Year 2023-24 budget, which includes record-high police funding and sets a new minimum for future city spending. The council’s decision has provoked both the police union and police reform advocates, who agree that increased funding will do little to alleviate police staffing shortages.
Interim City Manager Jesús Garza in his proposal touted the $31.7 million – or 7 percent – increase in police funding as a way to address long-standing staff shortages and citizen concerns about long response times. The new budget included a four percent base wage increase and a $2,500 incentive payment for all sworn officers, as well as increased payment into the police retirement system.
Austin Police Association President Thomas Villarreal questioned this logic.
“You can have all the budget in the world, but if you don’t have people to show up and work, those budget dollars are absolutely worthless,” he told the Austin Monitor.
Austin Police Department staffing data dating back to 2010, which Villarreal provided to the Monitor, shows separations (officers leaving the force through retirements, resignations and terminations) began outpacing cadet graduates in 2018, a trend that has since continued.
Chris Harris, policy director for the Austin Justice Coalition, is one of many advocates who participated in the public budget work sessions.
“It’s a complete betrayal of the reforms that were advanced during the Reimagining Public Safety process, and I think, given the state law that passed subsequently requiring that police budgets never go down, it’s also extremely fiscally irresponsible to add to the police budget with no concrete improvements to public safety,” he said.