In his latest move in a political fight against Austin for police funding, Gov. Greg Abbott says he is considering proposing that the state be responsible for guarding a large downtown area, including downtown, the Capitol in Texas and the University of Texas in Austin.
Abbott came up with the idea during a pre-election telecast on Wednesday as he discussed his attempt to punish cities that “discourage the police” during the upcoming legislative session, which begins in January. For months, he opposed the Austin City Council vote in August to cut the police department̵
“Something else I’m thinking of doing, and that’s because we have people coming from all over the world and from all over the country in our capital, as well as at the university, we can’t make our fellow Texans become victims of crime. “Because of the leadership of the city of Austin,” Abbott said, “and what I think we need to do is have a Capitol area that the state is in charge of the police, and we can use the Austin police officers for that.” “
The proposal is the result of a struggle for policing that became a key element of the November elections across the country, playing fears of rising crime in major cities amid calls for racial justice and reforms in policing.
Violent and property crimes in Austin decreased slightly in October this year compared to last year, according to city statistics. However, homicide cases have risen to their highest level in more than two decades: 44 in a city of about 1 million people. But this rise began before the Municipal Council vote in August and reflects a state and nationwide trend for big cities.
Police say the increase in homicides is not linked to the funding decision and could be a statistical anomaly. Austin’s killings are still low among major cities in Texas and across the country.
“I don’t think we can say that the figures for 2020 reflect that issue,” Austin police lieutenant Jeff Greenwold told reporters last month. “The murders we investigate usually stem from a common theme about someone putting themselves in a situation they weren’t as sure of as they could be.”
The council’s vote came after the ministry faced months of criticism over its own deadly use of force and this coincided with the national protest following the death of George Floyd, a man from Black Minneapolis who died after a white police officer knelt on his neck during his arrest. And Austin officers seriously injured many nonviolent protesters in demonstrations after Floyd’s death.
Abbott said cutting police budgets during growing killings was “absurd.” During the call, he vowed that he and lawmakers would “pass laws that would discourage cities, that would neutralize the police, but would also make it fiscally … impossible” to do so in the first place, “and we would force the city of Austin to reverse strategy. “
Austin Mayor Steve Adler, meanwhile, condemned the idea as “an unprecedented command of local law enforcement” and described Austin as one of the safest cities in the country. Abbott’s proposal, Alder said, was “intended to divert us from the truth.”
“It will be a long legislative session if it is all about uniting on a political basis and making us scared of each other,” he said. “Our country has serious challenges with too many uninsured, insufficient funding for education and insufficient pandemic response. They must be at our center.”
Abbott said the area could run from Lady Bird Lake, which borders downtown south, to 32nd Street and from Interstate 35 to Lamar Boulevard or Texas Circle 1, known as MoPac. The area will include the entire center, where crime has dropped significantly this year as fewer workers fill offices there due to the coronavirus pandemic and the area around the governor’s mansion.
“We can make sure that this area is extremely safe for anyone who walks around the center, walks around the Capitol, walks around the university,” said Abbott.
Abbott had previously suggested that the state could take over Austin’s police force, but he hadn’t developed that much.
Jolie McCullough and Dan Rosenzweig-Ziff contributed to the report.
Disclosure: The University of Texas at Austin and Steve Adler, a former chairman of the Tribune board, are financial supporters of Tribune, a non-profit, non-partisan news organization funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in Tribune journalism. Find a complete list of them here.