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Austin City Council Members Propose Ideas For Overhaul After 'Losing Faith' In Police Force

Austin police keep watch on protesters at a demonstration May 31.
Jorge Sanhueza-Lyon
Austin City Council members will vote on measures to reform the police department at their meeting Thursday.

The Austin City Council will consider multiple resolutions Thursday to direct money away from the police budget and toward the root causes of issues that lead to police interactions – including domestic violence, homelessness and addiction.

During a digital press conference Monday, Mayor Steve Adler, Natasha Harper-Madison, Jimmy Flannigan, Greg Casar and Mayor Pro Tem Delia Garza outlined what the resolutions include.

The council members said these measures are a first step in addressing the systemic racism that they say results in black and Latino people dying in Austin.

“The Austin Police Department should be disappointed that the council and constituents have lost considerable faith in their ability to end police violence against peaceful protesters and against non-white communities,” Harper-Madison said.

Flannigan said headlines that Los Angeles and Minneapolis are "defunding" their police forces don't convey the complexity of the process. It's not something that can happen overnight. He said changing policing will be “hard and frustrating,” but he knows it’s what the greater community wants.

“I have heard from officers who share the frustration and expressed the same concerns that we’re hearing from the community,” he said. “But they also find themselves in a culture and in a structure that has made it difficult to find a path to express it.”

Some of the resolutions being considered Thursday include fully funding the Mental Health Diversion Initiative, which directs 911 calls involving someone experiencing a mental health crisis to a mental health professional, and expanding police oversight.

Casar has proposed banning the use of tear gas, rubber bullets and lead-pellet rounds on people exercising their First Amendment rights; banning chokeholds; reducing military-grade equipment, reducing no-knock warrants and eliminating facial-recognition surveillance.

His resolution states that if these measures aren't changed, the city should delay the police academy's July cadet class.

Harper-Madison has proposed a resolution that helps more people experiencing homelessness who have been convicted of crimes get into housing.

The council members said addressing the root causes of major issues can reduce the amount of time police officers deal with people experiencing those issues.

“This is a marathon; it is not a sprint,” Harper-Madison said. “In no way do these resolutions get to the root of the parts of the system that we need to fix. We are working really hard to overthrow generational systemic and instructional racism, and that’s going to take us some time.”

Council members are expected to vote on the resolutions at their meeting Thursday.

Claire McInerny is a former education reporter for KUT.
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