Abbott expected to sign pledge against cutting police budgets in Texas

Tribune staff
State troopers stand near an overpass on Interstate 35 to prevent protesters from blocking traffic during a rally at Austin police headquarters.

Gov. Greg Abbott is expected to sign a pledge opposing police budget cuts — and a legislative proposal to “protect police funding” in Texas — at 2 p.m. Central on Thursday.

Abbott said last week that he was considering a legislative proposal that, if passed, would put the control of the Austin Police Department under state authority. That move came after the Austin City Council cut its police department's budget following months of heightened criticism after an officer shot and killed Mike Ramos, an unarmed Black and Hispanic man who was driving away from police.

Since the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis sparked protests across the nation, calls for cities to spend less money on policing and more on other social services like health care and housing programs have gained large-scale traction. Floyd was a Black man who died after a white police officer knelt on his neck during an arrest past the point when he lost consciousness.

During Austin protests in May spurred by Ramos' and Floyd's deaths, two nonviolent protesters — a Black man and a Hispanic boy — were seriously injured after being hit in the head with police bean bag rounds.

Abbott said in a statement after the Austin budget vote that it paved the way for lawlessness and Department of Public Safety troopers would stand in to protect the city. Days later, Abbott and other Republican state leaders held a press conference to denounce the decision and promoted a vague proposal to freeze property tax revenues for any city that defunds law enforcement, citing a recent uptick in crime.

In Austin, violent crime rates dropped by 25 percent between 2008 and 2018. This year through July, there were 29 homicides, compared with 19 during the same period last year, according to the police chief's monthly crime report. Abbott's press conference Thursday will occur at the Austin Police Association's headquarters, and members of that city's law enforcement union will join him.

Policing is the most expensive item in most cities’ budgets. Austin, Dallas, Houston and San Antonio budgeted more than one-third of their general funds for police departments during the 2020 fiscal year. Austin, which has decided to reduce its funding and reorganize its police department, budgeted $444 dollars per resident on police in the 2020 fiscal year, more than any of the three largest cities in Texas.