Demystifying the APD Budget

Morgan Witt Uncategorized

Public safety and well-being are two of my top priorities. Here I take a moment to demystify the new APD budget with a detailed breakdown of not only the intent of the new changes, but their implications as well. I also explain my stance on the issues of police and social reform.

MYTH: APD was defunded.
FACT: The APD budget was reduced by less than 5%.

The “Immediate Reinvestment” cuts a modest ~$20M (only about 4.5%) from the 2021 budget and reinvests it in essential community services. Community services address the root problems of crime and poverty. According to the Brennan Center, “one of the best ways to prevent crime is to provide more resources and support to low-income communities.” Meanwhile, incarceration and policing have far less impact on public safety and crime reduction than social and economic factors do. But this isn’t about blaming or punishing law enforcement.

To put it simply, when people are economically stable, our entire community reaps the benefits. With access to opportunities and resources, people will do good. Throughout my time in workforce training and development, I saw the direct, immediate impact of providing a service like skilled job training to low-income residents. My students went from minimum wage jobs, barely able to make ends meet, to careers in skilled industries — with access to education and job search assistance, they were able to support their families and prosper.

More so now during COVID-19 than ever, when thousands of Austinites are without work and facing eviction, we have to invest in our community and our people if we want to be safe. Expanding access to resources and economic opportunity will improve poverty rates and physical/mental well-being, stimulate our economy, and reduce crime.

So, in the midst of a global pandemic, are we going to support our neighbors in their time of need? I stand in favor of significant investment in essential community services that are proven to be effective in helping our city to prosper. This is a good start.

MYTH: Essential services are being cut, meaning longer response times.
FACT: Essential civilian services will be delegated to appropriate civilian agencies.

It’s no secret that public servants like police are undervalued and overburdened in their duties. I remember as a teacher once working on a campus that had one counselor for an entire school of K-12 students. Needless to say, I was never just a teacher — I was a counselor, mentor, social worker, parent, tutor, advocate, babysitter, coach, and cheerleader. I was underpaid, overburdened, and on top of that unequipped with necessary resources to handle overwhelming stress. I eventually got very sick and had to leave teaching in order to recover.

I know police officers face the exact same situation and frankly, in their line of work, it’s no wonder they’re at higher risk of suicide than any other profession. We must reassign many non-crime related duties they perform (more than 75% of their current workload, by the way) to other agencies designed to handle them so that they can focus on what’s important — protecting our community from serious crime. Meanwhile, we can properly fund things like the 911 call center, support services, COVID19 response, and victims services.

The “Decouple Fund” proposes just that. It aims to take many non-crime related, civilian functions that APD is burdened with and give them to civilian agencies. For increased accountability and transparency, it also seeks to reallocate Special Investigations and Internal Affairs functions to independent agencies.

It does not mean these services are going away; they’ll still be funded and operating. The elimination of upcoming cadet classes does not mean there will be a severe staffing shortage. With less non-crime related work on their plates, officers can focus on their core mission of responding to crime. In the meantime, we can give the academy curriculum the overhaul it so desperately needs, to oust a toxic culture and bolster the training that currently produces a 40% cadet dropout rate.

I fully support diverting these civilian functions to other agencies in order to reduce the burden on police as much as I support increased accountability and transparency through independent investigation agencies and processes. I also support substantial curriculum reform.

MYTH: Crime will run rampant with no one to police our streets.
FACT: Austin is one of America’s safest metropolitan areas, and police aren’t going away.

Has anyone ever told you that what you see on TV isn’t real? As a child of the 90s I remember watching Cops and America’s Most Wanted every Saturday night. I grew up thinking that bad guys and crime are everywhere, and it was hard to convince me otherwise! But the truth of the matter is that research simply doesn’t support this. Not only is crime much less frequent than we’re led to believe, but it’s been on a general decline for decades.

Let’s talk about facts real quick. In terms of crime, Austin is one of the safest metropolitan areas to live in the US. Violent crime makes up less than 1% of calls received by APD. In fact, 75% of APD 911 responses aren’t even crime related. It’s hard to believe because we’re constantly barraged with stories about violence.

So then like, why are police burdened with so much non-crime related work? And how do we reconcile these two conflicting characterizations of reality? Well, creating a safe community means we need to seriously reconsider what we mean when we say “safety” and “community”. It also means thinking about how we can restore law enforcement to their core mission, and do so effectively.

The “Reimagine Safety Fund” proposes to evaluate the way the City thinks about the role of policing and about public safety by possibly diverting funds from some APD functions to other services.

Does this mean there will be no traffic enforcement? No. We need traffic enforcement. But traffic stops are also where most officer-involved fatal and injurious incidents occur, especially for people of color. Austin also has the highest fatality rate in police mental health calls. Every year in Texas, the number of civilians being shot and being killed by police is on the rise. And yes, communities of color are disproportionately affected by this trend. It’s time to pause and reassess the situation so we can change the trajectory of these trends.

So what the Reimagine Safety Fund is proposing is that we ask ourselves, “How can we rethink the way we enforce laws? What should police presence look like in our communities? When should enforcement actually be support instead?” Enforcement isn’t going away, it’s more an evaluation of the safest and most effective way to respond to the community’s various needs and where we should focus our efforts.

I support the intentions of this fund, not just because I think we need to rethink crime and public safety, but because we need to rethink who in our community is most negatively affected by these policies.


Despite high-level news reports and content spread on social media, the approved APD budget isn’t just taking money away from the police. It’s not intended to punish or blame lawn enforcement officers. Rather, it’s a return to the core mission of police, a focus on community support through essential services, and a “reimagination” of what public safety means to our community.  As I mentioned, I fully support the intent of this budget — and as city councilwoman what I’d be most focused on is ensuring smooth transition, effective implementation, and measurement of progress. This will help us make sure there’s no interruption of services as well as make adjustments along the way to guarantee success.

Additional Reading

  • Detailed Breakdown of FY21 APD Budget (Grassroots Leadership)
  • Analysis of Austin Police Department Calls for Service, Jan ’19 – June ’20 (AH Datalytics)
  • What Caused the Crime Decline? (Brennan Center for Justice)
  • Community Organizations Have Important Role in Lowering Crime Rates (Brennan Center for Justice)
  • Officer-Involved Shootings in Texas, 2016 – 2019 (Texas Justice Initiative)
  • Broken Windows Policing: How a Theory of Crime and Policing Was Born, and Went Terribly Wrong (NPR)