Last week, Gov. Greg Abbott held a press conference in Fort Worth where he and other state and local officials criticized Austin Mayor Steve Adler days after Austin City Council members voted to defund Austin police to the tune of $150 million. Surrounded by political heavy hitters like Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, Sen. Jane Nelson, and Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price, he told reporters that they would be proposing legislation in the 2021 legislative session to freeze Texas cities’ lifeline — property taxes — if city officials dare to follow Austin’s lead and defund their police departments.
“In the future if they do face tough economic times, it means they will not have the ability to increase that property tax revenue,” Gov. Abbott said. “It ensures that those cities know that if they do make the decision to defund law enforcement, they are constricting their ability to ever be able to meet the other needs they have. Because the fact of the matter is that if we have lawlessness in our cities caused by local decision making policies that reduce law encouragement officers it is going to cause chaos in the entire community.”
In response to Gov. Abbott’s condemnation, Mayor Adler held his own press conference later that day and claimed that they were only cutting about $20 million, or 4 percent of the police budget and that it would not affect unfilled positions or cause a layoff of any officers. He said that about $80 million had simply moved certain areas to civilian control while the other $50 million wasn’t a cut, per say.
“Why did we do that?” Mayor Adler wrote in an Aug. 18 tweet. “Because safety is our primary concern. And that means safety for all. We used the $20 million to house people without homes, expand EMS, increase shelter for domestic violence victims, invest in violence prevention programs & expand mental health 1st responders.”
Calls to defund the police erupted in response to the worldwide protests against police brutality. They started in Minneapolis, where George Floyd was killed, and began slowly spreading across the country. Here in North Texas, the city of Denton is beginning to experience it after activists began calling for city leaders to defund the police department in early June.
“It’s all about reimagining what we can do with this money that is already being spent through our taxes and investing it back into the community,” Denton activist and UNT student Anthony Gaut told NBC5 in a June 9 report. But he claims that they are not calling for police layoffs.
Denton city leaders responded by forming a Use of Force Ad Hoc Committee to review Denton police’s use of force policies and make recommendations for how they can improve it, while Denton residents responded by arriving en masse to a Blue Lives Matter rally held over the weekend.
Over in Collin County, the calls to defund the police have been mostly silent. Local Profile reached out to Plano police spokesperson David Tilley and Plano Mayor Harry LaRosiliere to find out if they’ve been receiving any calls from residents to defund the Plano Police Department.
“I asked the Chief’s office, and there have not been any calls about diverting police funds to other areas,” Tilley wrote in an Aug. 19 email. “I have not received any myself, either. Most of the correspondence I have had with the public has been supportive of not defunding or diverting funds from the police.”
Tilley pointed out that they have had policies and procedures in place for some time now to prevent police brutality as well as a complaint process to investigate any claims. They also conduct regular bias-based, ethnicity and ethics training for all employees.
To help bridge the gap with the community, Plano police is utilizing its Facebook page to engage with the community and not only seek its help when needed but also to highlight various employees and the kindness of strangers.
Plano police is also currently working with a vendor to implement an online policy portal that Tilley said the public will be able to view and delve into some of the more significant policies within the department.
“We have seen no [other] changes [requested] as the protests that have taken place in our city have all been peaceful and controlled,” Tilley said.
Mayor LaRosiliere was visiting his mother in New York when Local Profile reached out. He was kind enough to respond:
“The notion of defunding the police is an attempt to create a solution where resources are reallocated to provide public safety with increased social services,” he wrote in an Aug. 20 email. “The Plano Police Department has made us one of the safest cities in the U.S. for many years and we will continue to fund our mental health coordinator position to meet our goals.
“We will continually explore opportunities to improve, but to be clear, our police department will keep us safe with the same level of compassion and humanity that has earned them the respect of our community.”