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Travis County’s Prosecutors Say Austin Police Are Playing Politics By Refusing To Investigate Crimes

Three people talk to the left of an Austin police vehicle
Gabriel C. Pérez
Austin voters will see two propositions related to police oversight on the ballot this May.

Travis County's top law enforcement officials say Austin police aren't investigating crimes in protest of policies aimed at reducing jail bookings for low-level offenses.

In separate letters to the city manager, Travis County District Attorney José Garza and County Attorney Delia Garza said they've been dismayed by reports from the public that officers said the prosecutors' policies prevented them from investigating.

Both offices have said they would not prosecute low-level offenses, freeing up police to instead focus on violent crimes. They also instituted policies to review arrests early to determine whether cases would be able to be prosecuted.

The policies have been opposed by the Austin Police Association and the Combined Law Enforcement Associations of Texas, a statewide union for law enforcement officers.

The officials asked Spencer Cronk for an update on a meeting they'd had in June with him and interim Police Chief Joseph Chacon about allegations that officers were citing their review process as the reason for not arresting a suspect or investigating a crime.

In his letter, José Garza also noted the police union's opposition to his and Delia Garza's elections last year as a reason for the officers' inaction.

The two candidates ran on a platform to reduce arrests for nonviolent and low-level offenses. DA Garza suggested reported instances of inaction were for "perceived political gain" and suggested "rogue" APD officers were following the messaging of APA President Ken Casaday.

"When sworn law enforcement officers decline to investigate crimes reported by Travis County residents, it erodes public confidence in our justice system and makes our community less safe," he wrote.

Last week, the APA said the policies run "counter to the interest [and] general safety for the public" and that they "leave victims with little to no hope for justice" after a KVUE analysis of criminal and misdemeanor cases rejected this year.

Casaday told KUT on Tuesday the combined policies have contributed to Austin's rash of violent crime and the high number of murders this year.

He said officers understand the chain of command — that José Garza and Delia Garza are the top law enforcement officials — but that he "vehemently" disagrees with the DA's policy, specifically.

"We ... tell our officers that he is the elected official of the county, and he's the one that makes those decisions," he said. "The citizens put him in the office, and he's doing the job he said he was going to do, and we'll have to wait until there's another district attorney who takes a more serious approach to crime."

Casaday said he has plans to meet with DA Garza next week to discuss these issues.

In her letter to Cronk, Delia Garza defended her office's policy and called the police unions' opposition "the political elephant in the room" that must be dealt with.

"I am very aware that the false narrative of mischaracterizing the policies of this office aligns perfectly with attempts to obstruct reform efforts of our criminal justice system," she wrote. "I want to be clear that I am committed to an open dialogue with leaders in our community who truly care more about public safety over political ploys and pandering."

Andrew Weber is a general assignment reporter for KUT, focusing on criminal justice, policing, courts and homelessness in Austin and Travis County. Got a tip? You can email him at Follow him on Twitter @England_Weber.
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