One major beneficial step is the diversion of about $11.9 million to fund a new forensics lab independent of the Austin Police Department (“APD”). The lab will still serve law enforcement needs – but in a neutral and unbiased manner.
While a part of APD, the forensic lab had accumulated a backlog of 4,000 sexual assault kits. When the Texas Forensic Sciences Commission discovered the lab was using unacceptable scientific practices [CLN, January 2019, p. 40], it was closed. The Texas Department of Public Safety (“DPS”), the state police, has been performing all needed lab services for APO since then.
In 2019, the city began to allocate funds for mental health professionals from Integral Care’s Expanded Mobile Crisis Outreach Team to staff APD’s 911 call center. Additional funds diverted from APO will enable a fourth first-response platform separate from EMS, fire and police departments to care for citizens experiencing mental health issues. Similar programs in New Orleans, Louisiana; Eugene, Oregon; and Seattle, Washington, have had stunning success at de-escalation and costs less than armed police response. [CLN, October 2020, p. 38]
Austin’s new reformist Travis County district attorney José Garza has announced plans for bail reform and diversionary programs to assist citizens in avoiding arrests and jail time. He believes active diversion programs will help to identify and correct some root causes of crime. Garza also is creating a “do-not-call-to-testify” list to prevent untrustworthy cops from testilying at trials. This is similar to the “Brady Lists” prosecutors across the country maintain with the names of over “5,000 lying, cheating or perjurous cops ... prosecutors dare not use ... if they want to win their case.” [CLN, September 2019, p. 29]
Diverted funds are being used to purchase hotels to provide permanent housing for homeless people in Austin. The city council’s goal is to have permanent housing in the form of these hotels in each district. The lone dissenter is newly elected Council Member Mackenzie Kelly, who also is the president of Take Back Austin, a community organization that’s pro law enforcement.
Texas Governor Gregg Abbott is threatening to have DPS patrol Austin’s streets. He also is threatening push-back measures against Austin and any other Texas cities that defund or divert funding from their police departments. In legislation labeled as an emergency bill, he proposes “freezing property tax revenue and removing annexation powers” from these cities.
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