Community Investment Budget
In collaboration with thirty one endorsing organizations, Equity Action joined in a Community Investment Budget that asks Austin City Council to commit to prioritizing increased wages for our lowest wage city workers and 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 $74 million, this proposal represents a set of priorities for about 6% of general revenue and a vision for how the city should move forward in 2022.
The City Manager has released a better baseline budget, and many of our community priorities got some funding. Unfortunately, the funding was no where near what we suggested. The levels we suggested are a floor. Low levels of funding will make little difference and can sometimes lead directly to failed programs that are quickly discarded. Our community needs are too great and we must provide meaningful funding. The budget hearing is scheduled for Aug. 2. Here is our quick assessment of what we got and what we still need.
Ballot Initiative Strengthens Austin’s Civilian Oversight of Police and Increases Transparency
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.
For instance, despite paying out over $13 million in settlements to victims of police brutality during the 2020 protests, the City of Austin has not disciplined officers, including those indicted by a grand jury, for their conduct during those protests. Nor has the department issued discipline over the more than 100 examples of false arrest and excessive force cited by Kroll this spring after an audit of body camera video.
Anyone in customer service knows that their employer can and will issue discipline for a variety of infractions — maybe a reprimand, maybe they get taken off the schedule for a week, maybe worse. We believe that if officers knew that they’d face discipline for brutality and misconduct, they’d do it less. We believe that if officers knew that facts about police brutality and misconduct would always be made public, they would do it less.
We believe police shouldn’t police themselves and Austin police require strong 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.
We know that a big reason police aren’t held accountable and more records aren’t made publicly accessible is that the police contract creates barriers to oversight and mandates that facts about brutality and misconduct be kept secret. Last year, the police union used terms in the contract to try to undermine the oversight system, and succeeded!
On December 28, 2021, in a decision that we believe was wrong on the facts and the law, an arbitrator overturned some of the most important powers of Austin’s Office of Police Oversight. Over the course of several months in 2021, the police union filed dozens of grievances against the Office and finally took one to arbitration. The arbitrator’s decision undid many of the gains made in 2017 and 2018, the historic period when City Council voted down a bad police contract and forced a better one.
Under the current system of police contract negotiations, police oversight and transparency are bargaining chips for police to get higher pay, instead of a baseline expectation about the job, and reforms are full of loopholes. That’s why we created the Austin Police Oversight Act. It mandates that any police contract in Austin implement this ordinance, no wiggle room. The CM is prohibited from bringing Council a contract that does not implement this ordinance, and Council is prohibited from signing a contract that violates this ordinance. Austin makes rules for contracts, and requires contractees to bring contracts in compliance with those rules. We can do this, and with your help we will!
We all bear a responsibility to stop the brutality and misconduct they commit. Please do your part and help us get the Austin Police Oversight Act on the ballot! Thank you!