The Austin City Council voted unanimously Thursday to cut the city’s police budget by about $150 million, or one-third, in an effort to redistribute police funds to social services and alternative public safety programs.
It’s the largest percentage cut to a city’s police department since Black Lives Matter protesters began taking to the streets earlier this year following the death of George Floyd, an unarmed Black man killed when a white Minnesota police officer pinned him by the neck for several minutes in late May. Austin police also faced sharp criticism for the April killing of Michael Ramos, an unarmed Black and Latino man shot by police as he attempted to drive away from them.
Around $20 million will be removed from Austin’s police budget right away ― money that was intended for three upcoming cadet classes.
The funds will instead support a variety of other programs, including violence prevention efforts, emergency services related to COVID-19, mental health and substance abuse resources, a family violence shelter, food access and abortion access programs, and the city’s parks department, the Austin-American Statesman reported.
The remaining sum will be shifted from the police department over the coming months.
About $50 million will go toward creating a “Reimagine Safety Fund,” which takes money away from police overtime, mounted patrol and other facets of the department to put toward “alternative forms of public safety and community support through the yearlong reimagining process,” the Texas Tribune reported.
Around $80 million will help separate forensics, victim services and other support services from the police department.
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) slammed the move in a statement alleging that Austin’s leaders were more focused on “political agendas than public safety,” and their decision “paves the way for lawlessness.”
Austin Mayor Steve Adler, however, emphasized that defunding the police was “not intended to punish police.”
“We’re going to improve public safety in Austin together. We need — and I welcome — the knowledge, the expertise, and the goodwill that our first responders are going to bring to this process. And one thing I know is that if we do this together, when we do this together, we’re going to reach a much better place,” Adler said.
The city’s decision to defund its police department follows Los Angeles, which cut hiring to its police department in a move that slashed around $150 million from the agency’s budget in July.