The Austin Justice Coalition released an opinion poll, conducted in July 2020, showing strong support for police budget cuts, and especially for cutting all the currently unfilled positions and police overtime.
The Austin public strongly supports alternatives to police for mental health first response, substance abuse, and homelessness and an end to the war on drugs. In addition, there is overwhelming support for an independent crime lab and for improved services for survivors of crime.
Finally, the Austin Justice Coalition asked how safe people feel in the presence of police. The results speak to one of the core problems that must be addressed in any reorganization of public safety resources: Black Austinites don’t feel safe with the police.
“For years Black people have been saying they don’t feel safe with the police, and have been explaining why,” said Chas Moore, Executive Director, Austin Justice Coalition. “Now we have it in the starkest possible terms. Only 5% of black respondents say they feel very safe around police, compared to 45% of white respondents. A majority of black respondents say they don’t feel safe around police, compared to only 20% of white respondents.. That speaks to the history of policing, and the need for foundational change.”
“Austinites of all races have come to understand that the longstanding disparate treatment of black people at the hands of police is not just something that happens somewhere else,” said Sukyi McMahon, Strategic Director, Austin Justice Coalition. “This poll demonstrates strong agreement that police brutality is a problem here in Austin, and that divesting from the police in order to address harm in new ways is an appropriate response.”
“The City just released the results of its own participatory budget tool, and it also found that over 90 percent of submissions requested divestment from the Austin Police Department,” said Emily Gerrick, attorney at the Texas Fair Defense Project. “This new poll, the #WeFund tool, and the City’s own budget survey have all yielded very similar results: the people of Austin do not equate safety with policing, and they want to reallocate funding away from APD and into real solutions.”
“We launched our own budget tool this year because the city’s online budget tool would not let people deduct more than $21 million from police,” said McMahon. “We found that people wanted steep cuts to police, more than $200 million.”
“City Council has started to take concrete steps this week,” said Kathy Mitchell, Just Liberty. “We’re seeing Council members from all parts of town pay attention to the voices of black people and victims of over-policing, and they’re listing things they are ready to do and support. Austin will need to do more, but the restructuring ideas by Council Member Flannigan and the specific cuts proposed by Pool and Casar are a great start.”
“There are many things that Austin can do right now to improve public safety through moving away from over-policing our communities,” said Jessica Johnson, attorney at the Texas Fair Defense Project. “The strong support in this poll for reforms to our 911 system — especially when it comes to helping the most vulnerable in our community, like people experiencing a mental health crisis — is heartening. The current status quo of policing may well make certain Austin residents feel safer, but in reality it both fails to make Austin safer and gives people of color good reason to be afraid. We are finally getting to the root of the inequities. Now we just have to make meaningful changes.”
“This poll aligns with the overwhelming recent evidence we’ve seen – from the streets, to the ballot box, from budget surveys and during city council meetings – police don’t equal safety for many in our community and non-police approaches to many of the most glaring issues we face are popular,” said Chirs Harris, Public Safety Commissioner. “Despite repeated efforts by proponents of the status quo to fear-monger, elected officials can trust the message their eyes, ears and inboxes are receiving – their constituents are ready to divest from police and invest in the community.”