After the Austin city council voted unanimously to defund its police department by about one-third of its budget, in August 2020, many predicted that once the cuts kicked in a flood of officers would leave the force as soon as they could. The new district attorney’s policy of re-investigating police officers for closed cases is also expected to cause officers to resign or retire.
The city council’s cuts officially kicked in and have been in place for a few months.
PJ Media reports exclusively that APD is now suffering a huge surge of officer departures putting it on pace to shatter 2020’s record.
In January 2021, sources tell PJ Media 20 officers retired from APD and eight resigned, for a total of 28 departures.
In February 2021, five officers resigned and six retired, according to multiple sources, for a total of 11 departures.
In March 2021, 24 more officers left APD, with 20 officers retiring. Additionally, three officers resigned and one was terminated.
To put this into perspective, 2019 was the last non-pandemic year and the year before the city council cut APD’s budget. APD averages about 50 retirements or separations in a calendar year, and replaces them with cadets who have graduated from the police academy or officers who join APD from another force.
APD saw 46 officers retire with another 22 resigning in 2019, according to local TV news station KVUE.
2020’s numbers were exacerbated by the George Floyd riots; 78 officers departed or retired from APD from the beginning of those riots to the end of 2020, for a total of 89 separations, according to KVUE.
Official 2021 numbers provided to PJ Media by the Austin Police Retirement System (APRS) break down as follows:
- Prior to 2020, retirements averaged 50-52 per year over the last 5-6 years
- Record number of retirements in FY 2020: 97
- First-quarter 2021 retirements: 45
Add to those 45 retirements the 18 resignations or terminations, for a total of 63 separations in just the first quarter of 2021. If the current pace continues, APD could lose approximately 252 officers — about five times the average number of separations for a year. This will impact public safety across the board, and according to the APRS, can impact retirees’ benefits as well. APRS raised the alarm about the impact the city council’s cuts could have in September of 2020.
March 2021’s retirements hit all over the department, including tactical intelligence, gang crimes, narcotics enforcement, investigations, and the bomb squad, according to a full list provided to PJ Media. Traffic enforcement — both warnings and citations — has declined by more than 60% in the first two months of 2021, a source tells PJ Media.
At the same time, the city council’s cuts have forced the cancelation of police cadet classes. The department is losing experienced officers in droves and is unable to replace them with new officers.
Ken Casaday, president of the Austin Police Association, told PJ Media, “It’s extremely concerning. We’re using overtime and forcing people back to patrol just to be able to keep up with 9-1-1 calls. We fully expect to take 50 more officers off of specialized units just to keep up with patrol.”
“In Austin, Texas, the city council has fallen under the influence of hard-line anti-police activists,” Charley Wilkison, executive director of Combined Law Enforcement Associations of Texas (CLEAT), told PJ Media. “They don’t reflect the mainstream in Austin but they have been very loud.”
Wilkison described how the activists have disrupted the city’s relationship with the police department. “For the first time in modern memory, the city negotiated a contract with the police union, only to have activists storm the city council meeting and demand the contract be turned down, and it was.” Wilkison says the activists called the police every name imaginable and the city council “cratered” to them.
“Mayor Steve Adler wouldn’t be fit to hold the shoes of Austin mayors of the past,” Wilkison said. Wilkison also noted there are police defunding bills filed in the ongoing session of the Texas legislature. Those stand little chance of passage with Republicans controlling both houses and with a Republican lieutenant governor and governor.
Austin is “listening to people who want to change America and make it more like China,” Wilkison added. He warned strongly against Austin reverting to a “political police department” like it had before civil service reforms made hiring and promotion decisions based on merit rather than political patronage. “These are mistakes we don’t have to make,” he told PJ Media.
New city council member Mackenzie Kelly was not yet on the council when Mayor Steve Adler led the defunding vote. She defeated one of the most vocal proponents of the cuts in December 2020. Kelly told PJ Media “We need to look at the root causes of these officers leaving. Not just those that are eligible to retire, but also those just plain quitting.”
Noting the shocking number of officers choosing to leave, Kelly said “We are losing our most experienced officers and the community is suffering because of it.”
Austin’s homicide trend is ominous. 2019 saw 31 homicides in the city. Homicides in Austin increased in 2020 over 2019, to at least 44. Sources confirm Austin has had 21 homicides in the first quarter of 2021, putting it on pace to exceed 2020’s total by some distance. There were three shootings, including one fatality, this morning.
APD chiefs are said to be meeting this week to determine which units will be cut further in order to shore up patrols.