AUSTIN (KXAN) — Gov. Greg Abbott took direct aim at Austin over what he calls police department defunding during a press conference Thursday.
Following a roundtable discussion with various law enforcement officials from throughout the state, Abbott used the press conference to single out Austin City Council’s plan to gradually shift money away from the Austin Police Department.
“Texas is a law and order state, and we are going to ensure that we keep it that way,” Abbott said. “Defunding the police is reckless … we cannot, and we will not, allow cities like Austin to defund the police.”
His message was clear — he’s going to push the Texas Legislature to pass laws this session that punish cities for taking money out of police departments. He said he wants to make it “fiscally impossible” for cities to do so.
“It would give cities a clear choice,” he said. “Either fulfill their duty to keep residents safe or lose access to all of their tax revenue.”
Previously, Abbott said he’d explore an option of the Texas Department of Public Safety taking over policing in Austin. At the end of the press conference, when asked if he still supported the plan, he said that’s “an issue for another day.”
While none of the law enforcement officials in the roundtable discussion represented the City of Austin, APD or Travis County, Abbott said he has spoken with APD Chief Brian Manley “on multiple occasions” about the department’s decrease in funding.
“What I know is what the city council’s position is,” Abbott said. “We made it clear with what they’ve done in regards of defunding police is unacceptable.”
Before the press conference, Austin City Council member Greg Casar provided KXAN a statement about the governor’s previous statements regarding removing police responsibility from the city.
In the wake of unjustifiable shootings and violence by police, our community has pushed the city to make much needed change. Now, Gov. Abbott is supporting proposals to protect departments that do the wrong thing.
He wants to punish Austin for establishing a civil rights office, family violence shelters, an independent forensic lab and substance use programs in our latest budget. It’s yet another chapter of his political theater, and it’s clear he doesn’t know the first thing about saving lives.
If Gov. Abbott is so interested in the local budget process, he should file to run for Austin City Council. The election in his district is next year. I don’t expect he’d do very well.Austin City Council member Greg Casar
Abbott said another priority he has this session is to pass, in some form, a reform of the state’s bail system. He pointed toward the “Damon Allen Act,” legislation he introduced in 2018 as one piece of legislation he’d like to see become law.
“The fact is Texas has a broken bail system that allows dangerous criminals to go free,” Abbott said. “I’m working with the legislature to develop strategies to end the revolving-door bail system we have in Texas.”
The act is named for Damon Allen, a DPS trooper who was shot and killed during a traffic stop on Thanksgiving Day in 2017. Abbott said the person who shot Allen was out on bail and should have been in jail.
The act aims to increase communication in the courts by ensuring judges have the full criminal history of a defendant before setting bail. But, civil rights advocates said bail reform in Texas needs to go even further.
“What we need is for judges to make meaningful, individualized determinations about someone’s risk, I mean, bail should be based on someone’s risk, and not the amount of money in their bank account,” Nick Hudson with ACLU Texas explained after the governor’s press conference.
Chas Moore with the Austin Justice Coalition agreed.
“The cash bail system is completely flawed; it’s very discriminatory,” Moore said.
Moore also added he was disappointed the governor’s roundtable failed to include important perspectives.
“He could have invited activists and organizers who have been begging for police accountability at the table,” Moore continued. “He completely disregarded the number of people that have been killed by police, the number of people that have been wrongfully arrested by police, the number of people that have been, you know, sitting in jails for far too long, because they can’t afford bail.”
Both civil rights advocates agreed police reform should have been included in the governor’s top public safety priorities.
“At the top of the list for lawmakers, this session should be passing the George Floyd Act. It will do things like ensure that we can hold bad officers accountable in state court, it’ll ensure that we can reduce arrests for things that are really petty,” Hudson said.
Hudson added they are hoping to work with Abbott and other legislators to pass bipartisan bail reform that includes what both sides of the aisle want and hopefully include police reform.
The Combined Law Enforcement Association of Texas agreed with Abbott’s priorities to discourage cities from pulling police funding, and the effort to reform the state’s bail system.
“We’re in favor of anything that would take hardened criminals off the streets and have an impact on officer safety and the public safety,” CLEAT public affairs coordinator Jennifer Szimanski said after Abbott’s press conference.
She said CLEAT will also be pushing lawmakers to pass legislation that will require more training beyond the beginning of officers’ careers, and beyond extra training after any mishaps.
“Instead of reactive training, it’s really more about professional development. So developing that officer into a professional and honing in their skill, and really letting them come back to the training academy. And, and work on those skills throughout their career,” Szimanski said.
Szimanski said CLEAT will also be holding lawmakers accountable for any promises they make this session.
“While we asked for additional training and meaningful training, this is an endeavor that obviously is going to cost money, but are they willing to fund it? That’s the question. By the end of the session, we will see who really wants to change and who didn’t,” Szimanski said.
While Abbott said homelessness wasn’t on the agenda for the roundtable, he addressed it by referring to a tweet he posted Wednesday saying, “if Austin doesn’t reinstate the ban on homeless camping, the state will do it for them.”
He said homelessness is going to be an issue this session, and he said he expects to announce a statewide homelessness plan that includes a ban on camping, “as well as other ideas to make sure that Texas will be able to effectively and aggressively address the homeless situation.”