Austin city leaders weigh cutting 100 police vacancies

By ACACIA CORONADO Report for America/Associated Press

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Austin would cut 100 police officer vacancies and postpone the graduation of its July cadets as part of a broader effort to overhaul its police department, the city manager proposed to the City Council in a memo Thursday.
The memo from City Manager Spencer Cronk’s came after the City Council voted last week to eliminate the police vacancies and to not hire additional officers until after the next fiscal year, at the earliest.

The council’s votes to change how the department operates followed weeks of protests over the deaths of George Floyd in Minneapolis and Michael Ramos in Austin. Floyd, who was black and handcuffed, died May 25 after a white police officer used his knee to pin down Floyd’s neck for several minutes as Floyd pleaded for air and eventually stopped moving. Ramos, who was black and Hispanic, was fatally shot by Austin police April 24 while he was driving away from officers.
In his proposal, Cronk said the July 2020 cadet class’ graduation should be delayed until after the City Council’s recommendations drawn from an internal police training audit can be implemented.

Cronk also proposed creating a team to lead the city’s reform efforts that will be made up of city leaders focused on safety, health, environment and culture, and the creation of advisory working groups that will be made up of other city staffers and community members working in the fields of advocacy, faith, public safety and business.
He said in a news release that he recognizes that the city must be deliberate and intentional in breaking down the systemic and institutional barriers in Austin.
“This is not just a law enforcement issue,” Cronk said. “This is a public health issue. This is a social services issue. This is an economic and housing issue. And this is very much an issue of trust and accountability. This proposal aims to tackle the root causes of these issues holistically, starting with reimagining what public safety means in Austin.”
Cronk’s proposed plan is set to be presented during a Friday meeting of the City Council’s new Public Safety Committee, which was created last week.

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Acacia Coronado is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.