Don’t Mess with Texas: Governor Seeks to Consolidate Defunded Austin PD with State Police Force

By Stephen Owsinski

While the misguided anti-police mouthpieces keep barking to defund and abolish the police, critical-thinking pro-public safety brains are analyzing ways to circumvent neutering and/or shuttering law enforcement agencies.

It seems the credo “Don’t mess with Texas!” is alive and kicking…especially on the state level. Texas state governance is using forward-thinking concepts bolstered by legislative authority to adopt sizeable police departments whose necks are in line with the defund-the-police guillotine.

The Austin Police Department is one of the major cop shops facing significant slashes in budgetary funds, essentially not only crippling its police force of roughly 2,640 sworn cops but also endangering the roughly one million population it serves. Since National Police Association readers also possess critical-thinking brains, we are not going to re-explore how grand of a stupid idea “defunding” is…except to say it seems a myopic, emotion-based, knee-jerk mindset with stark consequences.

What’s on the Texas table to help overcome the “defund the police” push?

Texas Governor Greg Abbott and state capitol legislators are mulling over plans to maintain a healthy balance of cops without betraying public safety initiatives which would result from whittling police forces to mere shavings—a gargantuan disservice to any community’s citizens.

According to The Texas Tribune, Governor Abbott and lawmakers are in the process of architecting a blueprint whereby the Austin PD may be consolidated into the Texas Department of Public Safety. How’s that for pro-police fortitude and legitimate progressive thinking? If the city turns its back on public safety (which it has threatened), the state will pick up the ball and run with it. So be it!

Governor Abbott said the following: “This proposal for the state to take over the Austin Police Department is one strategy I’m looking at. We can’t let Austin’s defunding and disrespect for law enforcement endanger the public and invite chaos like in Portland and Seattle.” That is a winning statement retorting an ostensibly losing proposition.

The policing business is a societal necessity rife with complexity—I believe we can all agree on these factors. It takes mature minds to manifest what the public is promised constitutionally: Sanctity of life. But not everyone plays fairly, and varying levels of governance hold stakes in the “life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness” principles.

Just as the federal government allocates financial aid to states, states also divvy funds to lower-level governments such as counties and cities (like Austin).

Governor Abbott’s tentative plan is to essentially use funds he would ordinarily dole out to sustain Austin’s public safety costs and, instead, use those dollars to incorporate the Austin police force into his state Department of Public Safety (swearing them in as state troopers, which also gives them statewide jurisdictional scope). Since law enforcement training is equivalent statewide, all he’d need to do is switch out Austin PD shoulder patches for Texas DPS patches, issue each LEO state badges and ID, equip them with state-owned weaponry, and assign DPS cruisers after the swearing in ceremony.

Albeit rare, some law enforcement entities are absorbed by others, usually a small municipality merged into the larger county sheriff’s office. Another example is a “county police” department assuming a town police force.

My department considered this many years ago, not because of “defunding” (it was way before that absurdity was hatched) but because of municipal coffers being strapped budgetarily (property tax constraints) as well as some councilmembers apprehensive over inherent liabilities. As mentioned above: law enforcement is necessary, yet it sometimes engenders complexities such as lawsuits stemming from matters which others unrealistically deem should go off without a hitch. Utopian society would be nice, but reality comes first.

As far as the political layers involved, Austin is the capitol city of Texas…and being scrutinized accordingly, despite local leaders’ objections and opposition to the pending public safety plan.

Naturally, one among the Austin City Council hell-bent on famishing Austin police officers was angered by Governor Abbott’s plan, and somehow engendered COVID as a basis for his counterargument.

“Austin City Council member Greg Casar said Thursday that Abbott’s latest tweet [telegraphing the plan to absorb the Austin police force] was another attempt to draw attention away from the state’s failed response to the pandemic,” The Texas Tribune reported. From what I understand, Texas performed quite well with COVID-related matters.

For the local media, Austin Councilman Gregorio Casar offered, “This, just like the other likely illegal, absurd proposal, are attacks on Austin’s local democracy and attacks on our focus on civil rights. When you look at it, it seems pretty clearly like an attempt at political theater and grandstanding.”

Many ironies in Mr. Casar’s rebuke…such as the mention of “democracy.” Doesn’t democracy apply to all Austin residents, many of whom may not prefer doing away with their police protections? And what is so “absurd” about fortifying a law enforcement arm which a lower-level governing body wants to fillet to skeletal remains?

No matter which side of the street one stands on, every American jurisdiction must have a readied police force supported by legislation to do a job most shy away from; no science…nothing new. What is new is the absurd notion of rendering a police cadre impotent. What would be the point?

Thank goodness for state-level legislators who are unblind to people’s needs and undaunted by the clamor and clangs of city councilmembers in Austin.

Surely, somethings got to give. And the Lone Star state has a plan for Austin and others in similar dire straits.

Texas reporter Jolie McCullough outlined the proposal this way: “The potential legislation, sent last week to Abbott by former Texas House members and parliamentarians Terry Kell and Ron Wilson, would allow for a city with a population over 1 million and less than two police officers per 1,000 residents –a bucket Austin falls into—to have its police force consolidated with the Texas Department of Public Safety. The state’s law enforcement branch would take over the local police department and form a new entity if the governor decided there were ‘insufficient municipal resources being appropriated for public safety needs.’” That boils down to It’s not necessarily what we want to do but what we must do in the interest of law-abiding tax-paying Texans.

Many states already have their own Capitol Police Department, so perhaps this “defund the police” hiccup in Austin is an instance in which Texas can realign resources and officially birth its capitol police contingent (if not just have it patrolled/protected by state troopers or a subdivision therein).

Austin PD’s slogan emblazoned on their HQ building and some of their police cruisers is “One Austin. Safer Together.” Perhaps that will take on larger meaning with the governor’s proposal.

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