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City leaders unveil ambitious agenda to overhaul Austin Police Department

City leaders unveil agenda to overhaul Austin Police Department

Austin City Hall
City leaders vote this week on items that will radically change Austin's police department. Austin, Texas - Your CIty Government/Facebook

Update: The Austin City Council unanimously passed all four of the items below following a 12-hour-long meeting on June 11. Item 95 did pass with an amendment, which, in part, expanded the ban on impact munitions. Read the full amendment here.

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Following 10 days of protests and one emotional, hours-long meeting last Thursday, Austin City Council unveiled its ambitious agenda to overhaul the Austin Police Department. The resolutions include items that would stop APD's use of chokeholds, eliminate tear gas and impact munitions during protests, and stop the use of lethal force in non-life threatening situations. 

During a June 8 press conference, Mayor Steve Adler and Mayor Pro Tem Delia Garza were joined by city council members Natasha Harper-Madison, Greg Casar, and Jimmy Flannigan to unveil the items, which will be voted on during the council's June 11 meeting.

The following four resolutions are among those on the agenda:

  • Creating a public safety committee and declaring an emergency (Item 93) This item includes, in part, the creation of a Public Safety committee that "may review the municipal court, the Downtown Austin Community Court, policing issues, criminal justice, emergency medical services, fire services, emergency management, code compliance, and related matters." Declaring an emergency would allow this ordinance to take effect immediately.
  • Changing tenant guidelines for formerly incarcerated people (Item 94)  Change rules to make it easier for formerly incarcerated people — a population that disproportionately includes people of color and is over represented among the homeless — to secure housing. 
  • Changing Austin Police Department's use of lethal and "less lethal" force (Item 95) — Eliminate use of tear gas or impact munitions during protests; eliminate the use of deadly force for people fleeing or who otherwise do not pose an imminent deadly threat; eliminate the chokehold as an APD tactic; reduce the use, stockpile, and purchase of military-grade equipment to the greatest extent possible; eliminate facial recognition; and restrict no-knock warrants.
  • Austin Police Department oversight and budget (Item 96) — Arguably the most ambitious — and damning — resolution, this seeks to overhaul the police department and budget. 

"We have the opportunity to set a nationwide trend [and show] that one tiny, slave-trading town on the Colorado can overcome its racist history," said Harper-Madison during the press conference. Harper-Madison, who represents District 1, was applauded by her fellow council members and the mayor for her leadership on the new agenda items. 

When asked if the council would be asking City Manager Spencer Crock to remove Austin Police Chief Brian Manley, both Garza and Casar pointed to Item 9 of the Austin City Charter, which prevents council from asking the city manager to appoint or dismiss city personnel.

Manley's job has been in question ever since protests on May 29 through June 1 saw APD officers repeatedly firing tear gas and bean-bag bullets into crowds of demonstrators. Two of those bullets struck 20-year-old Justin Howell and 16-year-old Levi Ayala, both of whom suffered severe injuries.

The charter, however, did not stop the majority of city council members from making their positions known during that emotional meeting on June 5. Speaking to the dais and the police chief last Thursday, Pro Tem Garza said her "faith in police leadership has been shaken." And during a particularly tense moment, Harper-Madison blasted the chief for being the only participant to have his video off while council members addressed him.

It also did not stop them from including the following statement in resolution 96: "The elected members of City Council have no confidence that current Austin Police Department leadership intends to implement the policy and culture changes required to end the disproportionate impact of police violence on Black Americans, Latinx Americans, other nonwhite ethnic communities, and returning and low-income residents," the resolution says.

The City Council will reconvene again on June 11 to discuss these items and dozens more, the results of which are likely to reverberate across the nation. As for Cronk's decision about the police chief's future, that remains to be seen.