As Council approaches budget deliberations, there appears to be consensus on the dais in favor of a package of cuts and reallocations of APD funding put forward by Greg Casar. It includes $149M in current APD funds that could be taken away from the department in one way or another.
But that figure is not nearly as big of a deal as you may think.
Only $23.3M of the total are immediate cuts. Nearly half of the total ($10.7M) comes from cancelling the three police academy classes in FY 2021. Then there’s $2.5M from contractuals and commodities, $2.8M in reduced overtime, $2.8M from records management and an assortment of smaller items.
Then there’s the $79M of programs that are being “decoupled” from APD. These are programs that will continue to exist but that Council wants to exist separately from the police department. That includes Victims Services, the 911 Center, Forensics, Internal Affairs. There are arguments for and against movign these entities, but it would certainly not be fair to characterize them as cuts.
Finally, there’s the $47M “Reimagine Safety Fund.” These are programs that have essentially been flagged for review, with the hope that they can either be reduced or eliminated in the near future. That includes $18M for traffic enforcement, another $3M for overtime, $2.2M for mounted patrol, $10.8M for training, $5.9M for park police, $1.4M for lake patrol and $3.5M for recruiting.
How much of the “reimagine fund” will ultimately be reimagined? Hard to say. There’s a good chance that six months from now city staff will return to Council and recommend keeping those budget line items almost exactly the same.
As I explained the other day, a good guess would be that the cuts envisioned by Council will likely result in 200 fewer cops by the end of next year. Or 1,593 cops instead of 1,793. If you’re worried about fewer cops on the street, those are the numbers you should be focused on.
What’s going to be strange is that both sides of the debate will disingenuously argue that Council has cut 1/3 of police funding. Some will celebrate it as a radical reform while others will decry it as a dangerous step towards anarchy. In reality, the average Austinite won’t be able to tell the difference between a 1,600 officer force and a 1,800 officer force. If there are consequences, positive or negative, they likely won’t be apparent, at least not immediately. It’s no different, really, then the debate over class sizes. In that case, however, it’s liberals and teachers who are saying that our children’s futures will be destroyed if the average class size marginally increases. In this case it’s conservatives warning of chaos if we marginally reduce the size of the police force.
In fact, the crime rate might go up (during a recession, it’s a good bet), but it also might go down. The marginal reduction in the size of the police force is not going to dramatically reshape the calculus for would-be offenders.