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Austin: Where ‘weird’ turns dangerous

Austin, capitol of Texas, an island of blue in a sea of red. When I taught in Texas, I avoided Austin as much as possible.  I had to visit for the occasional class, or to speak at a conference, but other than that, Austin was far more big, leftist city, and far less Texas than I could easily stomach. It has worsened since:

A section of Austin, Texas was left without a single police officer for a couple of hours Saturday, and the police union’s president is blaming ongoing staffing shortages. 

Austin Police Association President Michael Bullock tweeted Saturday that an entire sector in East Austin went two hours without a patrol officer assigned to the sector. He said that the department’s backfill shift made up of detectives and specialized units pulling double duty had to provide coverage. 

Graphic: Twitter (X) screenshot

Bullock blamed these circumstances on “staffing woes.” He said APD’s staffing was at 2006 levels – when the city had a quarter million fewer residents. Austin’s population is hovering just under 1 million now. 

This isn’t surprising.  In 2020, following the ascension of Saint George Floyd, Austin cut $150 million from the police budget. Things got so bad, Gov. Abbott sent state troopers to handle calls in Austin, and the city council sort of backtracked, but not before serious damage to public safety in the “Keep Austin Weird” city.

Bullock told Austin’s FOX 7 that the situation on Saturday was “not normal,” as APD would typically have “anywhere from 10 to 14 officers that might be available or working that particular time.” 

A few days prior, Bullock said APD’s downtown dayshift had only six officers and four “got pulled to guard city council.” 

“So, only 2 officers were available to answer 9-1-1 calls,” Bullock said. “Officers want to help Austinites – the City wants body guards.” 

Bullock told Fox News Digital that APD is about 500 officers down from where staffing once was, and around 700 to 800 officers short of what the city’s own studies have previously recommended. 

To put one officer on the street 24/7/365 requires hiring at least 4.5 officers, one for each eight-hour shift, and 1.5 to cover for vacations, illness, personal time, court, training and other absences. Newly hired officers aren’t on their own for about a year, drawing salary and benefits for undergoing training, but providing no real services for the public.

He traced the current state of affairs to the City Council voting to defund the department by unanimous vote in August 2020, and refusing to renew a five-year contract with APD in 2023. That has led, Bullock said, to APD losing more people than it’s been able to recruit each year. 

“The negative actions by prior councils and elected officials have gotten us to this point where we are in crisis mode trying to just respond to 9-1-1 calls. We’ve disbanded units, mandated that detectives pull double duty not only investigating their cases but also responding to 9-1-1 calls, consolidated shifts, and more. We have bent over backwards trying to keep our city safe because we care about the people who visit and call Austin home, but we can only bend so much before breaking,” Bullock said, adding: “The bottom line is we are on an unsustainable path.” 

The legislature responded to Austin’s lunacy:

The Texas legislature passed a law in 2021 that essentially forced Austin to restore the funding it cut in 2020, but the officer shortage persists. 

As with the police forces of blue cities—and Austin is certainly one—huge numbers of officers that could retire did. Others fled to sane cities, or quit the profession entirely.

Austin City Council Member Mackenzie Kelly of District 6, elected to council after the defunding vote, told Fox News Digital that rebuilding the police force will be a “gradual process.” 

Reality is revealing cities that betrayed their police officers many never be able to restaff. They’re having terrible difficulty recruiting qualified candidates.

Graphic: Twitter (X) screenshot

“The morale of our department is crucial, and as city leaders, it is imperative that we prioritize providing the necessary resources to support recruitment and retention efforts,” Kelly said in a statement. “With 79 cadets currently in the police academy, we are taking steps towards strengthening our police department for the future.”

A city spokesperson told Fox News Digital that APD “faces some of the most pressing departmental concerns in the organization, particularly in the area of staffing and training.” 

Translation: no one anyone would want to hire wants to be a police officer in Austin. They don’t trust Austin politicians and with good reason.

The lessons are simple: cities that defund, demoralize, harrass and prosecute their police forces can expect an explosion of crime, and an implosion of their efforts to try to undo their own stupidity.

Mike McDaniel is a USAF veteran, classically trained musician, Japanese and European fencer, life-long athlete, firearm instructor, retired police officer and high school and college English teacher. His home blog is Stately McDaniel Manor.  

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