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Austin Texas struggles with police manpower issues.

5 min read.

Austin, Texas residents are expressing outrage over police staffing shortages and longer 911-call response times in the aftermath of the city council’s vote to defund the department in 2020.

In February, a section of the city was notably left without a single police officer for a few hours on a Saturday due to the ongoing shortages.

Austin Police Association President Michael Bullock, who called attention to the vacancy on X, told Fox News Digital that a steady decline in public safety has put the city on the “brink of disaster.”

“Previous councils and leadership have actively worked against our officers and department, which has now put us in a free-falling staffing crisis,” Bullock warned. “Twice now we’ve had our contract voted down or it has been allowed to expire. Each year since 2017, we’ve lost more officers than we’ve hired. We had to gut our specialized units and force detectives to work backfill on patrol just to try and respond to 911 calls.”

Last year, the department was on the verge of a staffing collapse after 40 officers filed retirement papers following a 9-2 city council vote to scrap a four-year contract that the city had previously agreed to in principle and instead pursue a one-year contract that the police union’s board had rejected.

“As a result,” Bullock continued, “our staffing has been set back at least 15 years and at the same time we’ve dealt with a population growth of over 250,000 new residents. Combine that with a district attorney who has made it very clear that targeting officers and releasing criminals is his priority – not public safety.”

In 2020 following the Black Lives Matter riots, Austin’s city council voted unanimously to cut up to $150 million from its police department budget — about 34% of its current total — and reinvest the funds in other services. The following year, the Texas Legislature passed a law essentially forcing Austin to restore the funding, but the officer shortage persists.
Lauren Klinefelter, a longtime Austin resident, told Fox News Digital that the days of knowing you’d receive help when placing a 911 call are “long gone” after she was unable to get help following a 2022 car accident involving her young children.

“We needed an ambulance and some emergency assistance because not only was my car totaled, but my children were both bleeding and visibly injured,” she said, adding her kids were only eight and two-years-old at the time. “I called 911 and, to my surprise, it rang and rang endlessly, only to be routed to a 311 operator for non-emergencies.”

Klinefelter said she was left to take a Lyft to the nearby hospital after being unable to obtain help.

“My children were bleeding and over an hour had passed, so with no other option, we got a Lyft to the hospital and back home. The police never showed up, I was never contacted by anyone to follow up on the incident.”
Nick Kantor, whose brother Doug was killed in one of the most high-profile mass shootings in recent Austin history, said his sibling would still be alive today if the police department was not defunded.

Twenty-five-year-old Doug was visiting Austin in June 2021 to celebrate earning his master’s degree with friends when two rival gangs of teenagers opened fire on each other in the city’s packed Sixth Street entertainment and nightlife hub.

The New York native, who had just bought a new home and was set to marry his high school sweetheart, was killed in the shooting and 13 other innocent bystanders were injured.

“I found out that the anti-gang task force, along with most of the preventative crime measures, were the ones that were defunded due to prejudicial concerns about the ethnicity of the people being targeted by these factions of the APD,” Nick told Fox News Digital.

Kantor’s family became highly critical of far-left Travis County District Attorney Jose Garza in the two years leading up to the shooter’s trial, including his decision not to pursue charges against the several other gang members who were at the scene. De’ondre White was convicted and sentenced to 30 years for the shooting in September 2023.

Nick said only one city council member – Mackenzie Kelly – has acknowledged his family’s grievances.

“I think it’s pretty clear that their policies epically failed, and ultimately killed my brother along with hundreds of other people. And instead of accepting that they made a mistake and doing their best to make it right, they have chosen [to] ignore the statistics and continue to come up with more ways to dismantle the Austin Police Department.”

Fraternal Order of Police Vice President Joe Gamaldi said council members who voted to defund the police, including now-U.S. House Rep. Greg Casar, D-Texas, don’t “give a damn about the people in Austin.”
“What the Austin city council did was horrific to the community,” he told Fox News Digital.” There is no one left to fill these shortages because the city council treats officers like scum. Now, responses are over 10 minutes for emergency calls. Some districts are left without staff. City council should learn their lesson over violent crime. 2021 was the highest ever for recorded murders and, since then, the murder rate continues to stay close to that high and looks like 2024 will not be any better. People are dying over bad decisions.”

Bullock commended the commitment of law enforcement officers in the face of adversity.

“Our former council members and mayor should be ashamed of themselves for allowing us to go down this path. The over 1,400 members of the Austin Police Association are here to do everything we can to keep our city safe. No matter what challenges we face, Austin’s finest continue to show up to work to stand in the gap between those who seek to do wrong and innocent Austinites,” he said.

Klinefelter fears what happened to her will continue to happen if the department doesn’t get help soon.

“I understand longer response times in certain situations, but no response at all is scary! Especially when your babies are the ones you are seeking help for. I hope that our city can become safe again and that the police department can fill the empty spots, because if not, God help us all.”

City Council Member Mackenzie Kelly of District 6, elected to council after the defunding vote, previously told Fox News Digital that rebuilding the police force will be a “gradual process.”

“The morale of our department is crucial, and as city leaders, it is imperative that we prioritize providing the necessary resources to support recruitment and retention efforts,” Kelly said in a statement. “With 79 cadets currently in the police academy, we are taking steps towards strengthening our police department for the future.”

A city spokesperson told Fox News Digital that APD “faces some of the most pressing departmental concerns in the organization, particularly in the area of staffing and training.”

“The need for additional resources for APD remains a top priority and the Interim City Manager will be assessing what options are available to the city,” the spokesperson said, adding: “The Austin City Council has provided additional support to APD by authorizing significant investments for staffing and specifically retention bonuses as well as approving additional resources related to cadet classes.”

Fox News’ Andrew Mark Miller, Greg Wehner and Bradford Betz contributed to this report.