In addition to talking about police accountability and the dangers protesters face in the streets, the Austin Justice Coalition discussed Tuesday the idea of cutting police department budgets.
It’s a policy goal that’s existed for years among Austin criminal justice reformers but appears to have gained new momentum as protests and budget woes continue.
“Every dollar spent on policing has an opportunity cost. That cost is money that could have been spent on housing, money that could have been spent on health,” said Chris Harris, who directs criminal justice programs at the nonprofit Texas Appleseed.
“We have doctors without PPE (personal protective equipment), but we have police armed to the teeth,” he added.
Advocates say reducing police spending could lower interactions between officers and black and brown people who feel threatened by police. Opponents counter it could result in police doing more overtime work.
Some Austin protesters have been calling to cut or “defund” police.
“We would like to see the police defunded,” a protester, who would only speak anonymously out of fear of police reprisal, told KUT on Saturday. “We would like to see them become civil servants.”
Austin spends about $441.5 million in its budget, that's nearly 40% of the city's general fund.
The city is in the early phase of this year’s budget process, putting out questionnaires and planning public forums where many others will likely say police spending is a top priority.
But, with finances stretched because of COVID-19, advocates for the cuts think they could have a strong case this year.
Correction: The story has been updated to include the budget allocation for the Austin Police Department. An earlier version cited the department’s operating budget, which stands at about $376 million.
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