Austin at Large: Police and Thieves in the Street

Why do people say “ACAB”? Allow Austin’s warrior-cop lobby to demonstrate.

Austin at Large: Police and Thieves in the Street

We return to Cop Talk in this space; right now, as we go to press, Council is hearing from speakers who are pushing for as much disinvestment as possible from the Austin Police Department in the city's new budget. The $8 million in cuts proposed by City Manager Spencer Cronk has grown to more than $20 million, with promises of maybe $130 million more in cuts this fiscal year. (See "APD Starts Shrinking" and Daily News for the latest.)

That's not enough for advocates and those protesting in our streets, who wanted $100 million off the top now – a nearly 25% cut in APD's $434 million budget, which has grown steadily over the last decade. There's no way to do that without laying off current officers, as opposed to sweeping vacant positions and canceling cadet classes at the now-tainted police academy.

That's not a deal-breaker for those justice advocates, of course. But the cop lobby – the Austin Police Association, its citizen buddies at the Greater Austin Crime Commission (not a real city commission), its cheerleaders at the new Voices of Austin political retirement home, and APD leadership itself – has already worked itself into its usual conniptions about how overworked and understaffed (but not underpaid!) the police force is now. And it will be even more so, they cry, if you wipe out the 100-plus future cops in the now-closed cadet pipeline.

Imagine what they'd do if real officers' jobs were at stake.

Take This Job and Shove It

Police Chief Brian Manley's job is already at stake, and he knows it and now has nothing to lose by throwing in with the cop lobby. His untied tongue at the Council Pub­lic Safety Committee, as we reported last week, startled observers who expect city department heads to not argue with and criticize Council. But the folks he'll be leading in his inevitable next job, likely in a city not on the de-policing bandwagon, will be pleased that he didn't sell his officers out. Despite the fetters of state law imposed on civilian control of police, which make it so hard to fire Manley at this moment, his views are no longer very relevant.

But what of the police force that will be here once he's gone? Over my time as a professional Austinite, we've had one police chief – Elizabeth Watson – who came in as an Agent of Change in the wake of APD miscreance, and she lasted only a couple of years. Art Acevedo made important changes because he was an outsider, and an extrovert who actually enjoyed being a community leader, and ultimately in his own self-interest as he set his sights on larger cities (ultimately Houston) – but not because he fundamentally questioned the warrior-cop model or the culture of racism and oppression at APD. Even Acevedo's changes (they don't really rise to the level of "reforms") were enough to rattle the cop lobby, and it's no accident that the very avatar of a bullethead middle-aged white cop, Ken Casaday, now leads the police union.

In taking the unprecedented step of rejecting the proposed police contract until it was better aligned with Council priorities – more oversight, less mindless budget growth – our electeds have already taken the reins of control away from Cronk, let alone Manley. The current budget battle is simply the next step in that direction, one which, I again point out, is supported by the entire Council. Not one member – even the ones facing the toughest reelection challenges in November – was satisfied with the modest reductions Cronk proposed, even though they were the first APD cuts in the history of the 10-1 council.

Headed for a Slowdown

Whatever the silent majority is purported to think about "defunding" the police – a confusing concept even for people who champion it – the political momentum is clearly not on the cop lobby's side, and won't be for a while. Jimmy Flannigan has made himself the test case as a champion of radical police restructuring (and chair of the Council Public Safety Committee) in the purplest of Austin's 10 districts, facing at least one card-carrying cop lover (Mackenzie Kelly) in his reelection bid. But even if he loses, that's just one vote.

So what can the cops do? Well, they can roll up on protesters in the wake of Gar­rett Foster's murder with ridiculous shows of force (see what the Mounted Patrol can do?) while slow-walking their responses to other calls for service. Casaday and other cop lobbyists (including the Blue Canaries on social media) have long speculated about slowdowns, sickouts, and other petulance from our brave warrior cops who are butt-hurt by an ungrateful public.

We have actual cases of cops not showing up, or showing up and doing nothing, reported to us by readers (one of which involves Alex Jones). We already know that APD is supposedly being COVID-sensitive and de-escalating situations that don't involve threats to lives or property. The video of Mike Ramos' murder, as he faced an ad hoc firing squad of eight APD officers even after he proved to be unarmed, calls that into question, as do the scenes of jacked-up Spartans busting people by the dozens at Fourth and Congress.

Sadly, little APD says or does at this point can really be trusted. Thus, the large-scale engagement process to "co-create" a "reimagined" public safety system must proceed without the cop lobby at the table if it's going to be worth doing.

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