New Austin, Texas policing policies raising concerns

Southwest

AUSTIN, Texas (NewsNation Now) — The fallout from a recently defeated ballot initiative in Austin has raised concerns among local citizens and merchants in the Texas state capital.

Proposition A, which was voted down 68% to 32% in the Nov. 2 election, would have increased Austin police staffing to two officers per 1,000 people, doubled the amount of yearly training for officers, increased minority hiring and put more of a focus on community policing — requiring that 35% of officers’ shifts are spent in “community engagement.” The price tag on the initiative would have added an estimated  $271.5 million to $598.9 million to the existing Austin Police Department budget of $442 million.

The proposition comes as the Austin Police Department has implemented changes to its operation in an attempt to take on staffing challenges. An officer shortage has triggered the downsizing or suspension of 14 departments, APD said earlier this year.

The department also recently implemented a new way of responding to non-emergency calls, directing residents to call 311 instead of 911 for crimes no longer in progress.

The changes to 911 have been of particular concern to Austin convenience store owner Linh Tu, who spoke with Joe Donlon on “The Donlon Report.” Tu believes the changes in Austin policing have robbed local policing of a sense of urgency, putting civilians in an untenable, unsafe position.

Tu cited an incident in which his store was being shoplifted. He called 911, he said, to report the crime and to voice concern that he was about to be attacked by the shoplifter. Because he had not been attacked, Tu said, he was told to call 311.

“I’m very disturbed,” Tu told Donlon. “There’s no solution right now. When the city council makes 911 calls only a priority if you’re hurt or injured, everything else is call 311 and file a report, and that’s too late most of the time. Just like when I have a burglary, I call 911. They’re, like, ‘Are they gone? Are they done?’ They don’t send detectives to do investigations right away. They just want you to file a report and that’s it.”

The changes to police policy have given offenders the upper hand, Tu said.

“Right now, criminals know cops don’t respond within a minute or two. I was recently burglarized and they were in the store for five minutes. Taking their time, grabbing whatever they wanted. Usually, they run in and grab everything, and in and out in 40 seconds. They want to get away before the cops come. Now they don’t think the cops will ever come.”

Tu voiced exasperation over current conditions in the city.

“Either Austin’s got to change or there’s no reason to have a business if the criminals are the only ones benefiting from everything,” he said.

KXAN’s Kelsey ThompsonKevin ClarkDaniel Marin and Mayra Monroy contributed to this report.

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