Austin police past and present sound alarm on ripple effects of defunding police: ‘It’s crushing morale’


Active and former members of the Austin, Texas police department sounded the alarm to Fox News Digital about cratered police morale and untenable staffing issues they say are a direct result of police department defunding and actions by the county’s progressive district attorney. 

“Everybody who keeps getting elected here is just further to the left every time, it’s gone from more passively anti-police to, what you’ve really seen since 2020, is just overtly anti-police,” an Austin police officer, who wished to remain anonymous, told Fox News Digital. “I think that has been a big tipping point for a lot of people and we’ve just had enough.”

The Austin City Council voted to slash 30% of the police budget following the Black Lives Matter riots in the summer of 2020 following the death of George Floyd. The move cut roughly $20 million from the budget immediately and over $100 million in the future. 

“We did it!! Austin City Council just reduced APD’s budget by over $100 million *and* reinvested resources into our community’s safety and well-being,” former Austin City Council Member Greg Casar, who is now running for Congress, tweeted at the time of his vote. “Tens of thousands of you have called, emailed, and testified. You made the impossible into a reality. #blacklivesmatter.”

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Two years later, a police survey in the city showed that only 25% of department employees feel “valued” at work, and only 20% believed their department was well managed.

“Mayor and City Council seems to have no idea how much their decisions have negatively impacted APD and the citizens of Austin,” one police department employee wrote. “Employee morale among sworn staff is so low.”

Austin set an annual homicide record in 2021 with 89 murders, and staffing shortages have meant officers no longer respond to non-emergency calls in many cases.

Additionally, certain task forces within the department have been eliminated, leaving some classes of crime largely ignored. Hundreds of sex offenders are no longer being tracked or followed up on thoroughly due to staffing shortages, in part because 202 budget cuts derailed cadet classes and left slots on the force vacated by retirement unfilled.

Progressive activist Jose Garza, who ran on a platform of “reimagining” policing and prosecuting police officers, was elected as Travis County district attorney in January 2021. Garza has earned criticism, especially from families of crime victims, for his lenient sentencing policies, as well as indicting police officers. 

While the Austin City Council approved $442 million budget for the APD in 2021, which KXAN-TV reported is the highest it has ever been, current and former officers told Fox News Digital the demonization of the police in 2020 along with staffing shortages and retirements that came from the vote to slash their budget has had disastrous consequences.

“Radical activists” who had been content to simply protest city government have now “infiltrated” the Austin City Council and the district attorney’s office in Austin and are waging a “war on cops” from the inside, calling for “absurd levels of oversight” that are “nonsensical,” the officer told Fox News Digital. 

“It’s crushing morale,” the officer said, adding that Austin has essentially become the “epicenter” of the defund the police movement that has had a “massive impact” on the department.

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Another current Austin police officer told Fox News Digital that staffing shortages have forced detectives to take part in mandatory street patrols, depriving serious crimes from receiving the attention they require. 

“Things are bad here,” the officer said, adding that the situation is the “worst I’ve seen” since joining the force. “We don’t have the units we used to have because everybody is having to go back and work the streets.”

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“They’ve disbanded all the specialized units,” former Austin police sergeant Greg White, who in retired in 2021, told Fox News Digital. “You can promote, but even then you’re going to be back on patrol doing backfill. It interferes with investigations. You’ve got guys that are detectives trying to work cases, like sexual assaults and murders and everything else, and they’re getting pulled back to work backfill because there aren’t any bodies in the streets.”

Last week, KVUE-TV reported that there are at least 220 vacancies in the Austin Police Department, and the union that serves the department warned that officers do not have the staffing to handle the overlap of the Austin City Limits Music Festival and Texas Longhorns football game. 

“At last report, nearly half of our patrols were below the authorized ‘minimum staffing’ level,” the Austin Police Association tweeted. “Officers are doing their best to cover all necessary services, but your patience is much appreciated, especially now. This is why it is vital that city leadership prioritizes funding and staffing for APD. Please make sure to support pro-public safety candidates at the polls later this month!”

A former Austin police officer, who wished to remain anonymous due to still being an active law enforcement officer elsewhere, told Fox News Digital that the decision to leave Austin was made when “communist activists” began being appointed to positions of leadership in the city.

I left because every day I went to work, I worried about being made into a political pawn,” the officer said. “I worried that a good faith decision that I would make would lead to my long term suspension or firing or indictment, and largely simply due to the race of the subject that I was conducting.”

Garza, who was backed by progressive liberal mega donor George Soros, took office in January 2021 after campaigning on a pledge to hold police officers accountable and prosecute them for misconduct.

Since then, Garza has pursued charges against a previously indicted police officer, who was acquitted earlier this month, and indicted 19 police officers for their involvement in quelling a Black Lives Matter riot in 2020.

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“The multiple officers that have since been indicted by DA Garza kind of only confirmed the gut feeling I had at the time,” the former Austin police officer said. “I really just saw it coming. And so I left because I didn’t want to have my career ruined and exit impeded if I stuck around. And that really just proved to be true.”

The Austin Police Department averaged 13 officer resignations a year from 2010-2017. From 2018-2021, that average ballooned to 44 officers per year, and KTBC-TV reported that 37 officers have resigned so far in 2022. 

White explained that roughly 300 Austin police officers will be eligible to retire in March. Additionally, he said that the demonization of police, staffing issues, and a potential failure to negotiate a new labor contract between police and the city in the coming months, could cause officers to lose certain benefits. The environment could make retirement an attractive option.

“Why would you stay?” White asked. “You’re already down hundreds of officers, and now you’re going to be facing another shortfall. The next two cadet classes they have, over the next 6-8 months, are going to be pushing out about 100 cops and that’s if everyone graduates. That’s unacceptable.”

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White told Fox News Digital that Garza’s election was a big reason he opted to retire from the Austin Police Department. He says he feared that even if a shooting he was involved in was justifiable, Garza’s office could attempt to prosecute him. Officers typically receive what is known as a “bust out check” when they retire that includes vacation time and other unused benefits, but those checks are withheld if an officer resigns or retires while under active investigation.

“For me personally, I wasn’t going to lose all that money when I had an opportunity to retire with a full pension and with a full pension and everything else and get the bust out check. I wasn’t going to stay any longer,” White said about his 2021 retirement after 23 years on the force.

White said that he, like many officers when he first started, planned to serve for 30 or more years in a job that he loved, but it “got to the point” where an “overzealous district attorney or department who is willing to sacrifice you for political gain” made the job no longer worth it.

“There’s been several officers who have been thrown to the wolves for political gain and it’s disturbing and it affects morale,” White said. 

The former Austin police officer told Fox News Digital that the city council views police as a “necessary evil” and is content with bringing the city “to the brink” when it comes to low staffing so that they can push their social re-imagining agenda onto the populace as the fix.”

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I think we have to acknowledge that that’s kind of the leftist elite’s goal. They know what’s best for us, and they desperately want to grow the government for a complete state takeover, and they have to really break it down and destroy it so they can rebuild it how they want.”

Multiple officers past and present spoke to Fox News Digital about the perceived microscope with which officers are now viewed, known as the “Ferguson Effect,” after a police-involved shooting in Ferguson, Missouri. Officers hesitate to make critical life and death decisions knowing that they could be prosecuted by politically motivated city leadership for “doing their job,” they claimed.

“We’re seeing some hesitancy in situations that should be cut short,” one of the Austin officers said, adding that it is a growing trend that hopefully does not lead to officers or victims being hurt. 

The former police officer told Fox News Digital that lenient sentencing policies from DA Garza contribute to the “Ferguson Effect” by leaving police officers wondering why they are working hard to arrest criminals and put themselves in danger of being wrongly prosecuted, when alleged criminals often walk free. 

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It’s frustrating because you wonder, what am I doing this for?,” the former officer said. “The police are just one cog in the wheel of the criminal justice system and criminals must be held accountable by the elected judges and the district attorney and now they’re being coddled and treated as if they’re the victims by our elected officials. And all the while they’re really disregarding the status of the people they’ve victimized. For me, without the accountability of that part of the system, we’re really going to see society crumble.”

White explained to Fox News Digital that officers on the force have told him that the target officers feel on their backs has caused police to be less proactive. They focus, instead, on responding to life or death calls. White said that politicians have the “benefit of knowing” that police will always respond to 911 emergency calls even if officers are stretched thin or disagree with city council leadership.

When someone is screaming for help, cops are going to come, and they [city leadership] know that and they can treat officers like crap and we’re still going to go,” White said. “Other than that, anything proactive, you sit and wait for someone who really needs the police without looking for burglars, you’re not looking for robbery suspects, you’re not looking for people who have warrants, you’re not doing anything proactive other than being there when true victims need you.”

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Fox News Digital reached out to all 10 members of the Austin City Council and Mayor Steve Adler and only received a comment from council member Kathie Tovo. 

Tovo, who has served on the city council since 2015, told Fox News Digital that she is “concerned” about the low police morale. Tovo rejected characterizing the 2020 budget decision on police funding as “defunding the police” and instead claimed the council shifted priorities, investing in other areas of public safety as a way of pursuing “community based solutions” to violence.

“The conversation became one of ‘defunding’ which clearly we didn’t do,” Tovo said. “$20 million is clearly a fraction of the police budget and the surrounding conversation, including from those who support it, were just not accurate. I think it was really hard for the community to understand what we were doing and why and that’s unfortunate and I hold myself accountable for not being a stronger voice and explaining what we were doing and yes, we were making different kinds of investments, and yes we did cancel several cadet classes, in my opinion for very good reason. We needed to have revisions to that cadet curriculum.”

Tovo explained that the new cadet curriculum “reflects our community values” following the death of George Floyd, which symbolized an “extremely important racial reckoning for our country.”

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The Austin Police Department and Travis County District Attorney’s office did not respond to a request for comment from Fox News Digital.

Mayor Adler was widely criticized by the law enforcement community last month when he was spotted at a police officer’s funeral and appeared to be sleeping during the ceremony. Adler apologized multiple times for the incident, saying he regrets that his “actions distracted attention away from a somber moment”, but one current police officer told Fox News Digital that Adler’s actions came as no surprise.

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“I hate to say emblematic, but it’s just so on brand for the city for something like that to happen,” the officer said. “You gotta be kidding me. But at the same time, you’re not really that surprised. You’re like of course.”

“What was lost in that story is that only one council member showed up,” another officer added about the funeral, which took place on a Monday morning. “It’s not like we’re asking you to give up your weekend or come in on a holiday. It’s like come on.”

When asked what the city council can do going forward to address the cratered police morale besides rectifying the staffing issue, Fox News Digital was told by both former and current Austin police officers that city leadership needs to push back against police demonization. 

Even if it’s just even if it’s just words, at this point. I think even having just vocal support from a DA, a county attorney, people on the city council or even in the department would be nice. It doesn’t feel like we even have word of mouth support from these people,” one active Austin police officer said. 

The officer compared fixing the problem to trying to turn around a giant ocean liner and said it will take a significant amount of time to repair morale and address staffing issues.

“Those giant ocean liners, these things don’t turn on a dime,” the officer said. “It takes miles for those ships to turn around the ocean. Once you realize you’re going the wrong way you can’t turn that around, it’s going to take a long time to turn this thing around.”

Members of the Austin Police Department past and present told Fox News Digital that morale has cratered and policing has been hampered after the city defunded the police.

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