Community Investment Budget
In collaboration with forty endorsing organizations, Equity Action joined in a 2023 Community Investment Budget. We ask Austin City Council to commit to prioritizing inflation wage increases for city workers, higher wages to secure recruitment at EMS, emergency rental assistance to prevent evictions of those seeing untenable rent increases, social services for those already unhoused, increased park staffing, and much more.
Totaling about $100 million, this proposal represents a set of priorities for about 7.7% of general revenue and a vision for how the city should move forward in 2023. The coalition push in 2022 resulted in a major shift in the City Manager baseline budget, including higher wages for civilian employees and new money for emergency rental assistance. This year we expect Council and the Mayor to carefully review this proposal, created collaboratively with so many of our Austin community organizations, and urge the City Manager to fund these priorities in the baseline budget.
See the full proposal here.
In 2023, Equity Action has built an even bigger Community Investment Budget Coalition and continues to promote long overdue investments in public safety including higher wages for EMS and 911 call takers, an expanded program of Park Rangers in our 300+ parks, E-books for our library system to encourage reading in the digital generation and much more. Add your organization to the endorsement list or join as an individual! Endorsements matter! Meanwhile in May, 2023 city staff issued expense and revenue projections designed to discourage our elected officials from continued investments like these. The city put “Living Wage” on the unfunded “wish list” while adding 190 police officer positions that cannot be filled in the coming fiscal year under any scenario. We have our work cut out for us, so take a moment to sign the letter to City Manager Garza, and add your organization to the endorsement list for the Community Investment Budget!
The Austin Police Oversight Act is now the law!
Equity Action spent the summer 2022 gathering more than 33,000 signatures for a ballot measure that finally empowered our police oversight system. Our signatures were “validated” in September 2022 and the Austin City Council voted to put our ordinance on the May 2023 ballot. Despite a deceptive campaign by the police association to put a second ordinance — one with the same name, nearly the same caption, but very different content — on the same May ballot, voters overwhelmingly (80%/20%) voted FOR the REAL Austin Police Oversight Act and AGAINST the deceptive, disempowered version.
If you still have questions, maybe our FAQ will answer them!
Full text of the new law here!
We believe that police brutality and misconduct are wrong and that police officers found to have done so should be appropriately disciplined, even if the act is not a crime. We know that police brutality and misconduct continue to be serious problems in the City of Austin, in part because too often police in Austin aren’t held accountable.
Now that must change.
The Austin Police Oversight Act gives the Office of Police Oversight (a city department reporting to the City Manager) unfettered access to the information it needs to review the facts of a complaint about police conduct and recommend next steps. The Director can also recommend the level of discipline, but the Office is merely advisory. The final decision remains with the Chief.
The Office of Police Oversight will also become a repository of documents related to police conduct — including force data and public filings in lawsuits against the City over police conduct. A new consultant report estimated that lawsuits over police conduct have cost the city $70 million in recent years. Its time to shine light on the problem and fix it.
We believe police shouldn’t police themselves and Austin police — like most major departments — require external oversight to ensure accountability. We believe more records about police brutality and misconduct should become publicly accessible and records should no longer be permanently sealed — at least to the same extent that officer conduct records are public at the Sheriff’s department or DPS. But the police contract has always given police in Austin special rights, and for decades has failed to secure a strong and effective oversight system.
That’s why we created the Austin Police Oversight Act. It sets out what our oversight system can do and prevents a police contract from undermining it. For example, the new ordinance will give the Office of Police Oversight:
- unfettered access to body/dash camera video and 911 call audio,
- the ability to pose questions to witnesses
- the ability to identify additional witnesses who might have relevant information
- the right to recommend whether an incident needs a full investigation based on its review of the evidence, and then participate in that investigation.
The Office of Police Oversight should be “eyes on the process” throughout the process. Civilian oversight systems like the one we propose work to improve accountability in cities all across America. It is so common that there is a national association of civilian oversight systems and a detailed history about what has worked. Our Act is based on a careful evaluation of such models as well as the historic role the OPO has played in Austin in recent years.