AUSTIN (KXAN) — Texas Governor Greg Abbott has pitched the idea before — a state takeover of the Austin Police Department.
But now, Gov. Abbott says there’s a draft of a law to do it ready for lawmakers to consider come January.
On Monday, he tweeted: “Just in time for Christmas: The Legislative Council has sent draft language for a proposed law that would transfer control of the Austin Police Department to the Texas Department of Public Safety. One way or another we will pass a law to keep Austin safe.”
On Tuesday, KXAN obtained a draft of the bill that would shift control over to DPS.
How Austin Police Department would work under Texas DPS
Firstly, the shift of control would only apply to municipalities with populations of 950,000 or more and a ratio of fewer than two police officers per 1,000 residents. Gov. Abbott would also have to issue written determination of a public safety threat due to insufficient funding for police.
Under the bill, Gov. Abbott can direct municipalities to enter into contracts with Texas DPS — this would create a special division of law enforcement within the department. In Austin, this means Police Chief Brian Manley would become chief of this special division and would be overseen by the director of the DPS.
Municipalities that have their control given over to DPS would also have to pay for the services. And cities who do have control taken would also not be allowed to offer additional law enforcement.
Meaning here in Austin, the City would not be able to enact any of its own law enforcement services.
Contracts between municipalities and Texas DPS will be pushed forward by the Governor at the beginning of each fiscal year. In Austin, this would happen in October 2021.
The act overall would take effect Sept. 1, 2021.
Why is this happening?
The tweet from Gov. Abbott was not a surprise. He’s teased the idea for months and promised to pass it just days ago.
“The state will fix this,” Abbott wrote on Twitter. “Texas will pass a law this session supporting law enforcement and defunding cities that defund the police.”
Several state representatives and senators declined to comment on the effort, including those who represent the Austin area and those on the Senate Committee on Criminal Justice.
The Austin Police Department did not make Chief Brian Manley available for comment on Monday.
Back in September, Abbott expressed his displeasure with Austin City Council’s decision to cut $20 million from APD’s budget, in addition to transitioning $130 million out over a year. The council’s decision came after harsh criticism of the way APD handled protesters over the summer.
The move was condemned by Abbott, who called it “disrespect for law enforcement” that would invite chaos and endanger the public.
Abbott received a legislation proposal in September that would allow cities with over 1 million residents and fewer than two police officers per 1,000 to have its police force consolidated with the Texas Department of Public Safety.
This would include Austin, which was pointed to as a reason for the legislation’s creation.
The potential transfer of power comes as APD reports a rise in several violent crimes in the city this year. The department says the murder rate increased by 55% over 2019.
However, the department’s latest monthly report say all crimes against people are down 1% compared with this point last year.