D5 for Black Lives supports reallocating funds from the Austin Police Department to preventative public safety solutions proposed by Communities of Color United, Austin Justice Coalition, Grassroots Leadership, and others.
However, there is a lot of misinformation about these efforts. Please check out our responses to these common misconceptions.
Aren’t there fewer police officers in Austin now?
Are these budget changes causing police officers to leave APD?
As reported in the Statesman, from January to the end of May 2020, 66 officers had left APD through resignation, retirement, or termination. APD operates a force of about 1900 officers (2646 including support personnel). This was actually a continuation of a trend since the end of 2017. Austin Police Cmdr. Mark Spangler was quoted as saying that the “number of officers leaving the force has been trending upward over the past few years.” People have been making these same arguments in other cities as well, and when Slate examined these trends on a national scale, they found that departures were more related to upticks in people retiring (due to hiring sprees in the 1990s) than “defund” movements.
Is being a police officer one of the most dangerous jobs?
How will defunding APD impact my safety when I am out?
- There will not be less police on the streets.
- Experts have repeatedly argued that more police does NOT mean less crime. A comprehensive review of studies from 1968 through 2013 (229 findings) concluded that “merely increasing police force size does nothing to reduce crime.” They found that the “reported effect of police force size on crime has been constant and not significant for more than 40 years.” Again, the MOST COMPREHENSIVE study on this issue, looking at more than 40 years of research, concluded their paper by saying that there is “little benefit” to continuing to ask this question and that “it is time to end it.”
Isn’t Austin “one of the most dangerous cities in America and definitely in Texas” (Lt. Governor Patrick)?
This is completely false and has been fact-checked by a number of different news agencies. Austin is not in the top 50 cities for violent crime per 100,000 residents despite being the 11th most populated city in the U.S. APD Assistant Chief Stephenson has said (in response to recent violent crime data), “You can’t look at a short snapshot in time to develop a trend. You have to look over many years” and “I do feel that Austin is a safe city. Absolutely.” APD has said that these “numbers are too small to mean anything.”
How do budget cuts impact crimes being solved?
The cuts are for the most part not coming from the parts of police that solve crimes. The notable exception is that the crime lab would become independent of the police and put under new management with a budget equivalent to what they had before these changes. As it stands, a large majority of crimes are already going unsolved. According to the City of Austin’s 2019 performance measures report, the clearance rates (when there is an arrest or exception) for “crimes against persons” was 25% and “crimes against property” was only 8.8%. Finally, it is important to remember that an arrest does not mean that the crime was actually solved.
How can police actions “escalate” a situation?
Can’t de-escalation training fix problems of policing?
Some propose “de-escalation” training to change how police respond to a situation. De-escalation aims at “teaching officers techniques to slow things down and use time, space, and communication to find an alternative.” De-escalation training is the opposite of most law enforcement training, and has been outright rejected by at least one trainer in APD’s training academy, which has been called by former cadets “too aggressive” and “abusive.” Nationally, on average, new officers spend only 8 hours on de-escalation training compared to 49 hours on defensive tactics. Even when de-escalation is part of police training, the research is still unclear on whether or not it reduces police violence.
Has Austin adopted all of the #8CANTWAIT policies to reduce police use of force?
A review of Austin’s policies on this website found that 4 of the 8 policies are currently NOT in place in Austin:
- Requires De-escalation: the city is currently reviewing/considering adopting a required de-escalation policy,
- Ban Shooting at Moving Vehicles: current policy does not state that a threat other than the vehicle itself must be present for officers to use deadly force at the operator of a vehicle (APD policy 202.1.3),
- Requires Exhaust All Alternatives Before Shooting*: the city is currently reviewing/considering adopting a policy that requires officers exhaust all means before resorting to deadly force,
- Requires Comprehensive Reporting*: officers are not required to report when they point a firearm at a civilian.
*These last two policies were especially associated with fewer police killings (The Use of Force Project, 2016).
Why do some people say that changing police policies (APD General Orders) are NOT ENOUGH?
First, APD has a history of failing to adopt recommendations made by Austin’s Office of Police Oversight (OPO). Second, PBS reports that policy change is only “one of the many things that may affect officer behavior, and may not change the rate of fatal encounters.” Policies must say what officers can and cannot do; they must be widely communicated; and they must be enforced. APD Chief Manley’s policies are not enforced. For example, in June, Chief Manley pledged that his department would “never again use the beanbag rounds.” A day later, the City of Austin moved to finalize a $42,000 order for more than 5,000 rounds of 12-gauge Super-Sock beanbag rounds and another 5,000 beanbag rounds in August, despite Austin doctors publishing a letter in the New England Journal of Medicine calling for the end of law enforcement’s use of beanbag rounds. Policy change is NOT enough.
Why should mental health crises NOT be handled by the police?
In 2019, APD, after a review of its mental health training and practices, developed and implemented mental health crisis education for ALL of its officers. They checked the box. That same year, researchers found that Austin had the highest per capita rate of police shootings during mental health calls of the 15 largest U.S. cities. Nationwide, nearly 25% (sometimes higher) of people killed by police have a known mental illness. In Austin, this disproportionately affects people of color. Under the current system, there were about 10,000 mental health 911 calls from 2014 to 2017. Even with a mental health team at 911, only 13% of these calls were referred to the Expanded Mobile Crisis Outreach Team (EMCOT). EMCOT members are dispatched ONLY when requested by a police officer/first responder. Following models used effectively in other cities, Austin should have a 911 option for “mental health” service and first send EMS community health paramedics, who are NOT armed, for mental health crises, saving money and lives.
Why are people calling APD a racist organization?
Numerous reports have discussed the long history of racism, sexism, and homophobia at APD, from the top of the department downward, with officers “distrustful” that internal investigations of racist and sexist behavior would be handled seriously. This history is not in the past. Studies have found that APD disproportionately arrests people of color, and disproportionately uses force and severe force in communities in Austin where Black and Latinx people live, even after controlling for factors like crime and poverty rates. This year, despite APD claiming progress made, researchers still found that APD disproportionately stopped and searched people of color (Black people make up less than 8% of Austin’s population but 14% of stops and 25% of searches). This is not the case of a few “bad apples.” This is systemic racism.
Can’t anti-bias training reduce APD’s racist policing?
APD’s General Orders already require that APD “not engage in racial or bias-based profiling or violate any related laws while serving the community,” and complete training on racial or bias-based profiling. However, research on diversity or implicit bias training programs find that these trainings are “window dressing that looks good both internally to an organization and externally, as if you’re concerned and trying to do something,” but don’t actually achieve anything. These trainings can also backfire, “eliciting defensiveness from the very people who might benefit most.” These solutions focus too much on the individual police officer’s behavior rather than the larger structural system of policing.
But what about policing perpetrators of sexual violence?
Our current policing system fails to protect those who have survived sexual violence, exacerbates harm by often accusing survivors of having done something wrong and dismissing or ignoring survivor’s experiences. Sexual assault survivors have actually called for less police and more trauma informed professionals, particularly for women of color. Women of color (particularly Black women and multiracial women) have much higher odds of being a survivor of rape (U.S. Department of Justice), and a legacy of systemic racism and police brutality already makes Black women more hesitant to call law enforcement for help. Sexual violence BY the police also occurs across the U.S., though data on this is not systematically collected because survivors often fail to report these crimes and law enforcement agencies rarely make those reports public.