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Austin voters strongly reject Prop A, which would have required hiring hundreds more police

A biker passes a "No on Prop A Way" sign.
Gabriel C. Pérez
A sign in Austin's Hyde Park neighborhood advertises against Proposition A.

Austin voters have rejected a local ballot measure that would have required the police department to hire hundreds more officers.

More than 67% of people who voted came out against Proposition A, according to preliminary voting results. The measure would have required the Austin Police Department to staff at least two officers per every thousand residents. Given current employment numbers, Austin would have had to hire anywhere from 300 to 700 officers over the next year, according to city estimates.

Prop A opponents say Austin's rejection of the measure shows residents are in favor of recent efforts to make changes within the city's police department.

“Austin answered overwhelmingly tonight. We believe in criminal justice reform. We believe in comprehensive public safety and creating a better city,” Austin City Council Member Greg Casar told KUT. “Tonight’s results show that Austinites have rejected right-wing division and are marching forward to progressive change.”

It’s this “change” that the group behind Prop A, Save Austin Now, built their campaign on. The group argued that recent decisions made by City Council members about how APD staffs, trains and operates its department have made Austin less safe. (While this year the city saw a record rise in the number of homicides, Austin’s violent crime rate fell roughly 40% between 2019 and 2020).

In 2019, Austin City Council members voted to put a hold on training new police after several former cadets described an academy that employed bullying tactics. The council agreed to restart police courses once training materials had been revamped; that took longer than expected, in part because of the pandemic, and cadet classes did not resume until this summer.

The council also eliminated about 150 vacant police jobs as part of funding cuts they made to the budget last year. This year, a new state law forced the city to refund the department back to historic levels, although the council did not vote to pay for any new police jobs.

But APD had struggled to fill open positions before the council made these decisions. The number of officers employed by the city has been falling since 2018, from about 1,850 to just over 1,600 currently.

Save Austin Now, which ran a successful campaign to reinstate laws against camping and panhandling in public earlier this year, seized on these numbers, arguing that a dwindling police force was behind the city’s rise in murders. Representatives for the group collected more than 20,000 petition signatures and got the measure — later called Prop A — on the ballot.

Copyright 2021 KUT 90.5. To see more, visit KUT 90.5.

Audrey McGlinchy is the City Hall reporter at KUT, covering the Austin City Council and the policies they discuss. She comes to Texas from Brooklyn, where she tried her hand at publishing, public relations and nannying. Audrey holds English and journalism degrees from Wesleyan University and the City University of New York. She got her start in journalism as an intern at KUT Radio during a summer break from graduate school. While completing her master's degree in New York City, she interned at the New York Times Magazine and Guernica Magazine.