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Texas governor considers takeover of Austin PD

Gov. Greg Abbott has been critical of recent Austin City Council cuts to the agency’s budget


Texas Gov. Greg Abbott is considering a proposal that would force the Austin Police Department to answer to the Texas Department of Public Safety, according to a tweet he sent out Thursday.

Photo/Ricardo B. Brazziell/American-Statesman

By Katie Hall
Austin American-Statesman

AUSTIN, Texas — Gov. Greg Abbott is considering a proposal from former state lawmakers that would force the Austin Police Department to answer to the Texas Department of Public Safety.

Abbott described the plan in a tweet on Thursday as a “proposal for the state to takeover the Austin Police Department.” Abbott has been critical of recent Austin City Council cuts to the Police Department’s budget that aim to reinvest that money elsewhere in the city budget, and he has already offered a legislative proposal that would freeze the property tax revenue of any Texas city reducing a police department’s budget.

In a brief statement Thursday, Mayor Steve Adler compared Abbott to President Donald Trump and said it was “not surprising the president’s rhetoric is finding its way to Texas as we get closer to November.”

“Austin is the safest big city in Texas, and one of the safest in the country,” Adler said. “Public safety is our priority, and we support our police. We’re also always looking for ways for everyone to be even more safe.”

Austin Police Chief Brian Manley did not immediately respond to a request for comment Thursday evening.

Terry Keel, a former Travis County sheriff and former Republican state representative, and Ron Wilson, a former Democratic state representative from Houston, laid out the proposal in an August letter to Abbott.

“Austin politicians have overtly politicized local law enforcement to the detriment of all Texans and given state officials not only a reason, but a compelling duty to act,” Keel told the American-Statesman.

Keel and Wilson’s two-page letter says lawmakers should draw up legislation that allows the Legislature to consolidate police departments with DPS in areas where the governor has determined that, “due to insufficient municipal resources being appropriated for public safety needs, the safety of the public is jeopardized.”

The legislation should only apply to municipalities with populations of one million or more, their letter advises.

The act should create “a special municipal police department division answering to the director within the Texas Department of Public Safety,” the letter says. The act should also appropriate the municipality’s tax revenue for the ongoing operation of this division, the letter says.

“Austin, as the capital city, belongs to all Texans — not just those of us who live here full time,” Keel said in a YouTube video this summer. Keel sent the video to the Statesman in response to questions about the letter.

Austin City Council members in August unanimously approved a $4.2 billion budget that includes about $150 million in planned cuts to Austin police. Only about $21.5 million will be immediately removed from the department’s funding.

The final approval of the budget came after the council heard months of outcries from community members who demanded police cuts in the wake of protests against police brutality.

The city will cut the $21.5 million from the Police Department’s funding by canceling three upcoming cadet classes. The council also cut about $3 million in overtime pay for officers.

That money will be redirected instead to a wide variety of community programs and city departments, including Austin-Travis County EMS for COVID-19 response, mental health response, violence prevention, a family violence shelter and victim services.

©2020 Austin American-Statesman, Texas