Where Austin's mayor, 9 City Council members stand on police reform, funding, leadership

Thousands marched from Huston-Tillotson University to the Texas Capitol on June 7 to protest police brutality and systemic racism. (Christopher Neely/Community Impact Newspaper)
Thousands marched from Huston-Tillotson University to the Texas Capitol on June 7 to protest police brutality and systemic racism. (Christopher Neely/Community Impact Newspaper)

Thousands marched from Huston-Tillotson University to the Texas Capitol on June 7 to protest police brutality and systemic racism. (Christopher Neely/Community Impact Newspaper)



Mayor Steve Adler:

"I recognize the importance of symbolism. But for me, right now, I'm focused on transformational outcomes, whatever they're called."



On police reform ideas he is thinking about:


“I think I start with the premise that police should not be the way that communities interact with poverty in their communities and that we should be trying in all things to try to address root causes, as opposed to just dealing with, with symptoms.

“I think that policing is really I think that policing is really important. You know, we watched the police officers storm the car, the bomber, when it exploded, you know, it was an incredibly brave thing to watch. So we need, we need to keep our community safe. There are very definitely really important police functions, and the police need the resources and our support to be able to do those things.

“So within that construct I know I don't know all the things that are possible. You know, I think that it doesn't make sense the police are having spent so much time being social workers. I don't know the police should be our our front-line first responders on for mental health. I know that a lot of the calls that our police make our fire make and our EMS make our medical-related calls, and maybe there needs to be a different structure or umbrella over how we deal with medical calls in the city. The list of things to consider is endless, I think part of it is changing the culture, on how we respond to things, kind of the use of force issues. That’s a culture shift, and I think there are endless opportunities for that kind of culture shift.

On the idea of disbanding or replacing the police:

“Arguing over any particular word, and what the meaning of that word is, takes a lot of effort and a lot of time. For me, it will take me away from focusing on real outcomes and taking advantage of what is an incredibly unique and important opportunity and moment, I think, to really seek real transformational change. So I hear people talk about defunding or replacing, seems as if anybody that uses words they mean different things to them. I recognize the importance of symbolism. But for me, right now, I'm focused on transformational outcomes, whatever they're called.”

On calls to make a $100 million cut to the Austin Police Department budget:

"I don't know what is involved with or what the specifics would be in a $100 million dollar change, so I can't evaluate it without knowing what that means. As I said, when we were deliberating about this, saying $100 million and calling for $100 million dollars shows both the scale of the reimagining that I think we can achieve in this moment, as well as the scale of the challenge that we need to overcome.

How he would want to use additional money taken from the police budget:

Adler said he does not think just moving police functions from one department to the next does enough.

“We talked about trying to take a look at how we respond to medical calls in the city. Right now; fire does it; EMS does it, and police officers may be there. Should there be, you know, a single source or coordination of that effort? When we talk about homelessness in the city, you know ... we just went through this effort ... which was exactly this kind of question. Do we deal with homelessness by having our police officers ticket people or move people around the city in response to constituents or businesses that want to share public space in a different way? Is that a policing function, and if it's not a policing function, how do you deal with that? And the way that we've talked about dealing with that is primarily involved with getting people homes and support and services associated with those homes. That is a very specific example of reimagining a function that is or has been for years handled by police in our community.”

On how City Manager Spencer Cronk has led the city in this moment:

“I think that the evaluation of the city manager, relative to the conversation that's happening right now, will be on whether or not he, in fact, fashions a path to real transformational change. I think he understands that, and I think he's understands that the council's going to hold him responsible for that.”

His reaction to Cronk keeping police Chief Brian Manley at his post despite calls for his removal:

“Ultimately, I don't think the manager holds his job or loses his job based on a personnel position. I think the manager holds his job or loses his job on whether or not he can affect and achieve the results that the community demands. This whole movement and moment is not about making any particular personnel change in any department in any city. It's much bigger than that."


District 1 City Council Member Natasha Harper-Madison

"Some folks that have asked me why I haven't said explicitly that we need to fire or replace or demote specific members of APD leadership ... we need to have a plan. Me being deliberate about what's next doesn't mean that I have any support for our current police department leadership."



On police reform ideas she is thinking about:

At the top of the conversation, Harper-Madison talked about targeting root problems the police department has in recruitment practices. She said specifically she wants to change the rules prohibiting dreadlocks and disqualification for bad credit scores.

“So, during recruitment, you know the selection process includes them determining who would be, you know, an appropriate eligible, you know viable candidate. One of the [disqualification] codes is [dreadlocks]. And the interesting thing about that, for me, is, you know, generally speaking, we're talking about white people determining whether or not hair is within the parameters, you know, around consideration. But I can tell you now, most white people don't know the difference between [dreadlocks] and braids.

“Then we move up the roots until we get to the topsoil. That’s where we’re talking about the [police] academy, that’s where we’re talking about training and curriculum.”

On the idea of disbanding or replacing the police:

“[If it means abolishing the police] no, I am not in support of that as an effort. I don't believe that it's necessary, frankly. Given my personal anecdotal experience and that those in communities that I serve, we often call law enforcement. So, no, I don't see that as an appropriate next step. I see lots of things as appropriate next steps, and that's not one of them in my mind's eye.”

On calls to make a $100 million cut to the Austin Police Department budget:

“I'm hesitant to use a specific number just given my limited experience with the budget process and given my experience with watching how numbers fluctuate. One of the things that I've wanted to commit myself to early on was never lying to people, and I think lies by omission and lies by assumption are the same as any other lie and so I just would rather be entirely transparent and honest.

“I don't know that we can get to $100 million. I don't know that we won't get to $300 million. I don't know what the number is, in which case I personally am hesitant to commit to any number until I have more information.”

How she would want to use additional money taken from the police budget:

“Housing insecurity, food insecurity, the experiences that recently formerly incarcerated people have, the experiences that working moms have, lack of child care and lack of access generally, predatory lending, I mean, all the things are directly connected and so frequently come right back to a person's experience with the criminal justice system.

“I definitely would like to see a deep investment in services that provide access to mental health; health and wellness services that provide access; permanent supportive housing, not emergency shelter housing, but actual permanent supportive housing. I love to see systems really built in that address the whole concept of school-to-prison pipeline, like juvenile delinquency. You know, how do we find ourselves there, and how do we avoid having our young people be introduced to the criminal justice system in the first place?

“I think about a lot of programs that could absolutely benefit from a diversion of funds, and frankly, I think, the officers who patrol the streets of Austin would have a better quality of life when they're not responding to calls that they're not trained to respond to, and frankly, it's just not the appropriate tool.”

On how City Manager Spencer Cronk has led in this moment:

“I have been both a great supporter and extraordinarily critical. I do appreciate that he's very receptive to criticism. Because I have had moments where I just didn't feel like there was enough in the way of movement. ... It’s not even just a matter of him moving swiftly so much as not communicating effectively and in a way that was transparent about what next steps look like I really do think there was some, there was some failure there.

“I feel like he understands the nuance here that this is a complex situation. I don't know that he's taken the opportunity to really let the citizens of the city of Austin, understand, you know, what some of that is. So, in my mind’s eye, I do think communication has been flawed.

“The city manager is the only one who can demote Chief Manley. So, I think sort of leaving the onus on council members who can call for that to be done, but ultimately can't do it, I think leaving the onus on them kind of hung us out to dry to some degree. I really would have liked to see more, and I would like to see moving forward more in the way of firm, direct, really explicit leadership.”

Her reaction to Cronk keeping police Chief Brian Manley at his post despite calls for his removal:

“Honestly, I can't say that I agree or disagree. As for no other reason I don't understand his motivation yet.

“There's some folks that have asked me why I haven't said explicitly that we need to fire or replace or demote specific members of APD leadership, and my hope is that I've been thorough as possible in my explanation of the fact that we need to have a plan. Me being deliberate about what's next doesn't mean that I have any support for our current police department leadership. It just means that I don't see it as particularly productive to move forward on such an impactful decision without having a plan in place.

“So, if that's where [Cronk’s] at and he is feverishly, like my office and I are and some of our colleagues, attempting to come up with next steps and the best plan, what's best for the citizens of the city of Austin and uniformed officers who could potentially be left without leadership, which is also bad, if that's his motivation, then I would say it's unfortunate that we, as the body who offers direction to him, don't know that. In which case I can't say I agree or disagree because I don't understand his motivations.”

Harper-Madison said she would like the community to address APD leadership changes by the beginning of 2021, “at the very latest.” She said if City Council can produce “viable alternatives” for APD leadership and Cronk does not deliver, then she would support getting rid of Cronk.


Mayor Pro Tem Delia Garza

"
I'm waiting to see the actual words from other colleagues that really shows that they have reached their threshold to hold the city manager accountable for [not removing Manley].”



On police reform ideas she is thinking about:

“When [public health, early childhood development and after-school programs] are funded accurately, you have less crime. And so, we constantly 'fix' problems by arresting people and putting them in jail, and there's got to be a different way to do that.

“I don't see in any relatively soon time frame having no police officers. There are, unfortunately, bad things that happen, and you need people trained to be able to handle certain things. But even there, that's why we've talked about assessing and auditing training materials, because, regardless if it's mental health or what the situation is, we want our officers to be prepared to de-escalate situations. I don't think we have given our officers the tools necessary to be able to do that.

“When I talk about reimagining, I see it as a combination of the role of public safety in a variety of layers. We're not getting rid of a police department as a whole, but our police officers that will continue to have to respond to assaults and homicides and those kinds of things, we need to make sure that they're trained to be able to handle a variety of situations with the main goal of de-escalation. On one hand, it's rethinking how we train our police officers, but also, it’s reinvestment.”

On the idea of disbanding or replacing the police:

“It depends on how you frame it, right? I can easily frame it as, yes, we're disbanding the current system of policing. But I don't necessarily mean that means we are getting rid of every single person that works for the police department right now. I just think that we need to retrain our police officers, as well as direct resources to more social service, public health, mental health types of programming.

“Right now there's a demand, and it's a very justified one to reallocate funds. When I hear this 'defund,' I hear it more as a reallocation of funds away from, you know, military type of training, military type of force, military equipment, military procedures and protocols, and more [funding] towards mental health and de-escalation.”

On calls to make a $100 million cut to the Austin Police Department budget:

Garza has joined in calls to cut $100 million from the Austin Police Department.

“We all know that the public safety makes up the big bulk of the general fund and that was, frankly, to show solidarity with the Austin Justice Coalition and other organizations that have been advocating for criminal justice reform for a very long time. And, you know, now they are they are getting the attention that they have long needed, and it's become a more popular movement. I think as leaders we are kind of called to join those movements if that's what we believe.

“I mean, $100 million is less than 25% of the police budget. I would say asking for a 25% reduction is the right thing to be doing right now. Frankly, you always ask for more than what you think you can get.”

How she would want to use additional money taken from the police budget:

Garza said she would want to see a boost in mental health response as well funding changes to keep police officers from responding to more innocuous calls such as for someone who is locked out their car or a drunk person who is having issues.

“When you save money on [personnel] and [not purchasing] military-grade equipment, that’s when you start investing in early childhood programs and child care. A lot of kids who don't have access to youth programs who are in situations where we've heard really sad stories where the kids are sometimes safer outside of their home than inside their home.”

On how City Manager Spencer Cronk has led in this moment:

“I'm disappointed in the decision to keep Chief Manley, and I'm still prepared to do anything in my power to have a different chief and different leadership. I think Manley is a good person. He has had one of the most difficult jobs that you could have even in the best of times.

But I do not believe he's the person to lead reform of policing, and I don't see any other way than for us to reform our policing.

Her reaction to Cronk keeping police Chief Brian Manley at his post despite calls for his removal:

“That's where you as a council member decide how big of a deal this is right? You have to weigh [a lot]. You want a good relationship with the city manager, and so it's like you need to weigh all the other times you've dealt with him. I know that I'm not always going to agree with everything he does, but that's such a subjective thing, right? It's subjective to where, is this enough to you? Is this a thing that you disagree with as a council member that has gotten you to the point where you're like, 'I'm willing to ask for a change in leadership of our city manager'? It is so subjective to each council member. It's been incredibly hard to think of all that, but I've made it clear that I'm prepared to make whatever decision I have to make to get changed leadership in the city manager, and other council members aren't there yet.

“I'll just say, if I'm a white council member, and I represent a largely white constituency, and none of them are largely affected by these issues, I could see how that affects my threshold of how I'm willing to hold the city manager accountable for this one decision. So that's that's the difficulty of where other council members are, I would believe. I would hope, you know, I saw what felt like some, 'This issue is important enough for me, I will make this issue important enough for me, that I'm willing to do whatever it takes.' But I'm waiting to see the actual words from other colleagues that really shows that they have reached their threshold to hold the city manager accountable for this one issue.”


District 4 City Council Member Greg Casar

"
I think the majority of the council believes that there should be accountability for the variety of failures we've seen in policing and that accountability falls with police leadership. If it doesn't fall with police leadership then ... the only person that ultimately is fully accountable to the council is the manager. So I hope to see the manager step up."



On police reform ideas he is thinking about:

“First I think we need to commit to more effective forms of emergency response that do not rely solely on policing. Right now, our system is like having a toolbox, and we always choose the hammer, and only choose the hammer, when you actually sometimes might need a wrench. When sometimes you might need a screwdriver. I think we need to get to a place where this coming year, where when you call 911 you hear, ‘This is 911. Do you want police, fire, EMS, or mental health?’ We need to have those other forms of community response for mental health calls or for family violence, those sorts of things. Then I think we also need to be thinking about not only having a city where, when you call 911, somebody gets to you faster, but also creating a city where people can call 911 less often. Where we can actually keep people safer rather than just respond after something bad has happened. So how do we address homelessness with housing, instead of just a night in jail? How do we treat addiction, with treatment and healing rather than just a night in jail, which doesn't actually ever solve the problem for anybody?"

On the idea of disbanding or replacing the police:

“I think we need to reimagine public safety, and I think we need to reprioritize our budget. I stand with the community calls here behind Chief Manley's resignation. There's been a community call for reallocating $100 million out of the police budget and into other forms of community support and safety, and I stand behind and support to that. I'm trying to work with and listen to the local movements here and have largely been supportive of what those local organizers and local community members who've been testifying to us have been asking for.”

On calls to make a $100 million cut to the Austin Police Department budget:

“When I came on to City Council, our most immigrant neighborhood in Austin didn't have a park. We had to scrape for dollars for the last five years, and we're finally going to have a park in that neighborhood. We didn't even have a sign for the neighborhood public pool in the northern part of my district. We were scraping for dollars to make sure social workers didn't get laid off from the elementary school and that we could get copper wiring for the lights that had gone out. And so, there's always been this major contradiction of a city with such prosperity. Why is it that cities struggling to find public dollars for these really basic needs, and really basic amenities?

“Frankly so much of the budget was getting sucked into an over reliance on policing, even while a lot of those same communities that I represent ... oftentimes were not feeling safer or feeling better off because so much of our public investment has been in policing and not in all of the other kinds of supports that make your community safer. I think that $100 million would be an important way for us to start resetting our priorities to recognize that overpolicing, in and of itself, has actually not made us safer and that we should start shifting those dollars over to things that make it so that you don't have to call 911 as often because your community is better off in the first place. My hope is that we that we really stretch in this budget and try to get to that $100 million if we can.”

How he would want to use additional money taken from the police budget:

So many of our 911 calls have to do with mental health issues and, so, sending a mental health professional to deal with mental health makes a lot of sense. I've heard from a lot of police officers that would rather have a mental health professional deal with it. A really high number of the cases where there's ultimately force that's used, or somebody winds up getting shot, are also mental health calls. Having mental health professionals handle it would be a really high priority. Again, it's just a shift from police being the response to having someone that could better de-escalate a situation and address it be the response.

“Another area is obviously housing, especially for folks experiencing homelessness. If we want to guarantee safety for people, it's easy to get people that are living on the street housed. We can shift so much of the police time that is spent and so many of the dollars that are spent on homelessness. We really can reduce the cost.

“Another area that I raised is gun violence prevention. We have this Gun Violence Prevention Task Force, and I'm waiting to hear recommendations from them. But it is, again, so much more effective for us to get guns off the street, to keep guns from getting in the hands of people that shouldn't have them. For us to reduce the number of guns in our community, it makes everybody safer.”

Casar also mentioned programs that address family violence prevention and hospital intervention for victims of violence as areas he would like to see receive funding.

On how City Manager Spencer Cronk has led in this moment:

“We have a city manager who really tries to not take on all of the leadership himself, but to support and empower the people that he appoints to lead different offices. I told both him and the police chief very clearly before the protests began that our top priority should be to keep everyone safe and to make sure that nobody gets needlessly hurt, and I saw that as a big failure on the city's part for protesters that have gotten needlessly injured. Because I've seen the manager generally put that work and responsibility on the police chief, that's why I think there needs to be accountability for it and it needs to either be with the police chief or with the manager. I think the majority of the council believes that there should be accountability for the variety of failures we've seen in policing, and that accountability falls with police leadership. If it doesn't fall with police leadership, then somebody has to be held accountable, and the only person that ultimately is fully accountable to the council is the manager. So I hope to see the manager step up."

His reaction to Cronk keeping police Chief Brian Manley at his post despite calls for his removal:

“If we don't see a transformation in policing in the city, if we don't see changes and leadership in the city, then, I think the ball is back in council's court to start doing everything within our legal authority to make change. We always have the option of changing city managers. We also have authority over the budget; we could start closing senior-level positions at the police departments and creating change that way. And there's still more steps that council will take and can take if we don't see that change.

“I think that we avoid that road because ... you have a majority of City Council and an overwhelming number of people in the community all on the same page. I think that you see change. I think that change will come. And I hope to see that in the next few weeks.”


District 5 City Council Member Ann Kitchen

"
I really think that as a society, and as a community, we've failed in a lot of ways. When people in a mental health crisis end up in the policing situation, that is a failure of our health care system. When homeless individuals end up interacting in a policing situation because they don't have a place to live, that is a failure."



On police reform ideas she is thinking about:

“Mental health issues are a key example of issues that should be should be fundamentally health care issues, not fundamentally policing issues. Intervention when someone's in a mental health crisis is one of the most critical places that we can make change. We are working on that, but it needs to be accelerated.”

Kitchen said intervening in a mental health crisis with a clinician, as opposed to a police officer, is a “very tangible, very immediate change that we can make while we're continuing to think through other aspects of policing that we need to address through social services, through allocating funds and programs to social services. But this mental health diversion initiative is, like I said, very concrete, very immediate action.”

On the idea of disbanding or replacing the police:

“When I hear those conversations, what I think about is exactly what we're doing here, which is rethinking which functions of public safety are policing functions and which functions do we need to address before we get to that point. So, to me, it's all about how do you prevent situations? I really think that as a society, and as a community, we've failed in a lot of ways. When people in a mental health crisis end up in the policing situation, that is a failure of our health care system. When homeless individuals end up interacting in a policing situation because they don't have a place to live, that is a failure. It's a failure of our housing. It's a failure of our community. It's a failure to have resources available for people. Violence against women, domestic violence. Those are other examples where we end up in policing situations where if we had more supports in place to help people get out of those situations that would help us reduce the extent to which we need to deal with those kinds of situations with policing. It's not to say that you never have police that have to be involved. If there's a mental health crisis or in the situations I've described, it's just that those really needs to be really needs to be reduced as a very, very last resource.”

On calls to make a $100 million cut to the Austin Police budget:

“The bottom line is, we need to invest the appropriate amount of dollars across the city. That means dollars in public health. That means dollars in APD. That means dollars in other places. So, whether that's $100 million or not, I have no information at the moment about what that dollar amount should be. Because it's not about taking some arbitrary dollar amount out of APD's budget, right. If we were to do that ... we might never achieve what we're trying to do. What we're trying to do is change how we invest in public safety. ... To me, what's much more important, is achieving results.”

How she would want to use additional money taken from the police budget:

“Well, the mental health issues I mentioned. We need to better address homelessness issues and housing. I think we need to look at domestic violence and sexual assault and see how we can address those kinds of issues. Those are the areas that come to mind for me.”

On how City Manager Spencer Cronk has led in this moment:

“The bottom line, of course, is his results, right? It's our responsibility as a City Council to hold him accountable for results. And it's our responsibility to be clear on what results we're expecting. In order for him to be able to produce results, he needs to hear exactly what we want to see happen. So, we've done that to some extent, although I don't think we've gotten to all the details that we need to. Part of that will be the budget process.”

Her reaction to Cronk keeping police Chief Brian Manley at his post despite calls for his removal:

Kitchen said whether Manley keeps his job is “not my judgment call to make.”

“It's my perspective that it's the city manager's responsibility to bring us results. It's also his responsibility to make decisions about staffing and personnel. So, what I am going to hold the city manager responsible for is results. That means what we have directed to be done, in all of those resolutions, has to be achieved. And then we need to get clear on some areas and that will be an iterative process.”


District 6 City Council Member Jimmy Flannigan

"
It's easy for the council to say, 'change the chief,' because we don't have to say, ‘With what?' [Cronk] does have to answer that question. When you really think about it, it's a much harder question to answer than it seems at first glance.”



On police reform ideas he is thinking about:

“Some of it is taking functions that live in the police budget/chain of command and moving it into other departments that are maybe more appropriate to manage that area. So, some examples might be traffic enforcement, could that live in [the Austin Transportation Department]? Or the park rangers, could that live in the parks department? So, there's some of it that's not necessarily a substantive change to policing, but a change in management and oversight. Some of the ideas are about reducing the type of work an officer is required to do or feels required to do. One example that most people talk about is mental health but, honestly, that is a much more difficult nut to crack, and a lot of cities have tried, and nobody's really knocked it out of the park.

“So, there are ideas ... where we're taking some of the stuff that officers feel like is their job because we have put it on them, and creating other structures, which are more purpose-built to those needs. The biggest idea for me is thinking about neighborhood patrol in a different way. Now, granted, I am looking at this through a far Northwest Austin lens, which is very different than Central or East Austin thinks about policing. For my folks, they're looking for presence, as a deterrent to property crime. That is generally what we talk about beyond the obvious stuff, where you still have police respond to violence or [a situation where] weapons are present or other stuff. Nobody's changing that. But when you think about this presence as a deterrent to property crime, you don't really see police preventing property crime because you couldn't possibly have enough police to literally be on every corner. Well, why don't we actually fund neighborhood watch in a more substantive way then? It’d be a hell of a lot cheaper. You might even be able to get take this community service officer concept that's in the [2017] matrix report.

“There’s probably good and bad reasons to these ideas that we're laying out because it's always dangerous, as you know, for elected officials to brainstorm in public. But this is a moment where the public is asking for that process, so I'm more willing to do that than I normally would be.”

On the idea of disbanding or replacing the police:

“There are just parts of policing that are policing. You can reimagine it and call it something else, but it's still, in today's parlance, policing. Even if it's neighborhood watch, where it's a staff position but they are unarmed, you could call that policing, right? It's just different, and I think there's value in changing the words because there's a community trust problem, certainly in some corners of the city, and we need to address that because it's not going to work if we continue down this path, a path that started many decades ago, where we are dividing the community against itself where there always has to be winners and losers. That that is just not necessary."

On calls to make a $100 million cut to the Austin Police Department budget:

“Look, advocacy, good advocacy, often, stakes a claim, right? You’ve got to kind of Babe Ruth this, right? You’ve got to point where you want to go and then take a swing. So, I look at it as, you know, why not explore all of the ways we might get there and do the ones that are good. We might find it's more than $100 million. Right? What we’ll actually find is there will be parts of this which are somewhat symbolic, where you're kind of moving stuff into different buckets under different chains of command but the work, the substantive work, will be the same. And [then other changes] will truly be transformational.”

How he would want to use additional money taken from the police budget:

“I think we are in the brainstorming phase. As the chair of the Public Safety Committee, I'm trying very hard not to put my finger on the scale. I want to make sure that we are convening a process that allows for a lot of varied ideas and a way to systematically work through those ideas so that we end up with better policy. So I can continue brainstorming—parts of [the budget] might go to EMS, parts of it that might go to fire, or parts of it might increase. There's a good argument to increase [funding] the investigations [unit] in APD. Policing, I think, struggles to prevent crime, but there is a huge component about solving crime and we might be underfunding that piece. So, it is just not always about reductions. This is about being smarter about this system."

On how City Manager Spencer Cronk has led in this moment:

“The challenge for the city manager is routinely that the council will give the manager 100 jobs and money for 10. Council reflects the role of the public; we set the rules of engagement, and we decide how much money there's going to be. It's [Cronk’s] job to figure out how to make it work. So he has been given an impossible job because that's kind of what city managers’ jobs are, certainly in Austin.

“As far as leadership is concerned, you know, I was in all the hiring meetings ... what I know for sure is that the council ... was very clear that we wanted a manager who was a partner with the council, one who could see that the mayor and the district council was one that was reflecting the will of the public. While there are times where hard decisions have to be made for pragmatic reasons, or state law restrictions or judicial rulings, it's still a democracy. At some point, you got to say, ‘Well, this is what people want.’ So, that's the hard place [Cronk] lives. And it's easy for the council to say, 'change the chief,' because we don't have to say, ‘With what?' [Cronk] does have to answer that question. When you really think about it, it's a much harder question to answer than it seems at first glance.”

His reaction to Cronk keeping police Chief Brian Manley at his post despite calls for his removal:

“I think that that we need change in leadership [at APD]. But we also need the change to work. There's a sliding scale of time and quality. And the longer it takes to make this change, the more comfortable I am with less quality, unfortunately. [As council] we have an unusual role in this moment because it is not the job of the council to fire staff, and it's definitely not the job of the council to hire staff. But we are pretty clearly saying to the city manager what our expectations are, but we're only answering half of the question. That’s kind of not fair for [Cronk] because he can't do anything until he has both answers.

“I think Spencer is in this very difficult space where it's not clear that making a change is going to be better until there's a better answer. Until there is a better answer, why not give Manley the benefit of the doubt? There will be people who have very intense, very strong feelings about the thing I just said. But when you stop and think about what alternatives might look like, they're not easy. Doesn't mean we shouldn't do them. It doesn't mean we shouldn't do them fast. But it's also not fair for me to start a sentence with, ‘If I were the city manager.’ I'm not going do that.”

Flannigan said if Cronk does not deliver a change in police leadership, removing Cronk is among the “sequence of options before the council.”


District 7 City Council Member Leslie Pool

"
Since we don't know what the structure [of a reimagined police department] is or the skill sets needed, or even a job description, we can't go out and find somebody to head it up yet until we know what that currently amorphous entity is going to look like when we're done.”



On police reform ideas she is thinking about:

“It was really clear to me a year ago was that we didn't have our systems and our services in place for the community before we loosened the [homelessness] regulations, and so we were caught flat footed. We were not prepared. So, I was part of the dais effort to work on that during budget last year. We failed last year to fund those services appropriately. And I'm not going to say that things would have been different this year, but we would be in a much better stance if the dais had agreed to fund the mental health wraparound services and get those clinicians and social workers increase the number of social workers on our staff a year ago. So moving forward, I continue to support that work. We're right now working with staff in the budget office and the APD budget folks to get a fix on what that number will be.”

On the idea of disbanding or replacing the police:

“I think that people support law enforcement. They recognize why we have police and first responders, but they don't support and what they don't want to see are levels of force disproportionate to threat, and nobody wants to see the events [that took place at the protests on May 30-June 1] again. The public wants accountability from all of us, and we all want accountability from the departments and the city, and transparency as well. As far as what the structure of the force might look like, a year down the road, five years down the road, we haven't yet engaged those conversations. But I'm completely open to any and all discussions of what that structure might look like.”

On calls to make a $100 million cut to the Austin Police Department budget:

I'm eager to see meaningful changes in the budget. I fully expect the city manager to bring us fiscal year 2020-21 budget that acknowledges council's direction. We've been pretty clear that we want to see some shifting of responsibilities, and I look forward to reviewing the budget. I did also talk about returning to the core mission for the police department and removing the responsibilities that have been accrued to them over time because not enough time or thought was given to him properly should be taking on those responsibilities.

“I think it's going to be a hard year, not only due to the upheaval in our city from the pandemic and from the demonstrations. We know our anticipated revenues are significantly down, and that happens from time to time. But this is really a first time for the 10-1 council. We've never had to craft and pass a budget in an economic downturn, and it has really no end in sight, so everybody is going to feel some pain.”

How she would want to use additional money taken from the police budget:

“We’re still working on the list. It’s not really ready for prime time.”

On how City Manager Spencer Cronk has led in this moment:

“It's the city manager's job to oversee the proper administration city. So the leadership rests with the city manager, not with Chief Manley. We need to acknowledge the need for new leadership. We can't move forward and heal without a change in leadership. And it is the city's manager's job to oversee the proper administration of the city.

Her reaction to Cronk keeping police Chief Brian Manley at his post despite calls for his removal:

“If we are indeed intent about reimagining the police department, we don't yet know what that is. We don't yet know what that structure is. Does the structure change? Are there multiple heads of different strands? I don't know. But what I do know is since we don't know what the structure is or the skill sets needed, or even a job description, we can't go out and find somebody to head it up yet until we know what that currently amorphous entity is going to look like when we're done.”


District 8 City Council Member Paige Ellis

"
There may not be an ideal solution for new APD leadership right now, whether promoting internally or looking nationwide, especially considering the history of American policing."



On police reform ideas she is thinking about:

“I think what's really important with reforming and reimagining the department is to understand the jobs that they've been tasked with, and funded for, that they may not be the most appropriate responder; they may not even want to do that response. It could be mental health; it could be drug addiction; it could be homelessness. We have partnerships with other city departments or other organizations that we contract with that are much more able to respond to those types of situations. So, I would like to see more community health paramedics, changes to the Homelessness Outreach Street Team, things like Integral Care to make sure they can provide mental health services. I think there's just some things there that, as a community, it's better for those organizations and departments to be responding to some of those situations.”

On the idea of disbanding or replacing the police:

“I think whatever you call it, there definitely needs to be a reform. There are tasks that need to be provided by other individuals and other social service workers. So we do need to make sure that public safety is able to focus on public safety and not other things that are more of a social service response.”

On calls to make a $100 million cut to the Austin Police Department budget:

“I would really have to see, line item by line item, to understand if that number is the ultimate goal. I think that we do need to be making some big and important decisions in in the budget, especially knowing that there are vacancies [the police department has] funding for. There are other social service programs that are important to community health as a whole. I'd really have to see, line item by line item, what exactly it is we're talking about cutting, and I'm really interested in seeing how the city manager presents his budget ... and really getting to take a look at if he is committing to the things that he has promised us. You know he has laid out ... what his initial plan is going to be, and I think we need to compare that with the budget and make sure that we as a council are agreeing upon this direction.”

How she would want to use additional money taken from the police budget:

“I would like to see more funding moved over to EMS for the community health paramedics in particular. We've got a number of great partnerships in Southwest Austin that kind of operate in the same way, which is, if you can be more about community health and getting to know the people who need your assistance, but may not always have access to calling 911; it's a lot cheaper and better for our community to be checking in on people, understand their needs, understanding ... why they need help and what type of help they need.

“I'd like to see more investment in mental health response and things like drug addiction. I would also like to see a conversation around even park rangers. There're some places where park rangers have jurisdiction, but they're not able to ticket the way a police officer would. I think we need to give our park rangers more leeway to be able to enforce park safety and some of the rules that are very specific to our parks and recreation department spaces. So those are a few of the places that I would start.”

On how City Manager Spencer Cronk has led in this moment:

“I would like to see him be more forthcoming with the public in his thinking. I know there's times where he's made a decision for one reason or another, and we may get to speak with him one on one, but I would really like to see, as someone who is responsible for all of our departments and all of the city of Austin employees, and really understand his line of thinking.

“I would just like to see more of an open conversation around his line of thinking so that everyone in Austin can understand better. You know, these are conversations that are not easy to have, but they're important ones. It's really how we show the community where our values lie and how committed we are to doing the right thing. So that's something I would like to see more of.”

Her reaction to Cronk keeping police Chief Brian Manley at his post despite calls for his removal:

“Chief Manley has lost the trust of most of Council, and more importantly, the public, and he should step down. However, our country is going through a transformation, and many cities are rethinking how they’ve traditionally approached policing. There may not be an ideal solution for new APD leadership right now, whether promoting internally or looking nationwide, especially considering the history of American policing.

“I look forward to the budget the City Manager is due to present on July 13. This will be the first key indicator that he plans to take reform seriously.”


District 9 City Council Member Kathie Tovo

“Change will not happen because of the leadership of one individual, for example, a police chief. ... Transformational change really is going to require that strong leadership beyond APD to include the manager and needs to be done in conjunction with the community."



On police reform ideas she is thinking about:

“I think that transformational change really begins in the training academy. You know how we recruit, who we recruit and how those officers are trained, and some of you know we provided that direction to the manager about changing the academy. I think it's critically important.”

Tovo said conversations with the community advisory board, which is reviewing the police academy’s training materials, showed her how “thoughtful and far-reaching the revisions to the curriculum might need to be.”

“I just think it is so important that we invest the time and the energy and the creative and innovative thinking into how we want those officers to be trained for ... their current the new role in the community. I continue to be really interested in those programs that are reaching out to the community and talking to young people so that ... the youth who are, I believe, going to drive some of this change can get involved and interested. I think as we recruit into our police academy we need a more diverse group of officers a more diverse range of thinking.”

On the idea of disbanding or replacing the police:

“I support re-envisioning and transforming public safety. I believe in and will support continuing to have officers do the work that they are in the best position to do. What we are doing in our community is a process of looking at some of the roles that have been assigned to our police officers that might better be performed by other professionals. We're talking a lot, for example, about mental health calls. You know, it's about shifting some of that responsibility so that we really allow our officers to kind of get back to some of their key responsibilities. I don't know exactly what that will look like, but I'm absolutely committed to making sure that we are not compromising safety in our community for any of our Austinites. We are definitely having a conversation about our how we can transform public safety. We want everyone in our community to feel safe and to be safe, and that does really mean addressing some of the challenges, some of the embedded culture, that has resulted in disparate treatment for our communities of color.”

On calls to make a $100 million cut to the Austin Police Department budget:

“I am absolutely supportive and did support asking the manager to take a very careful look at the APD budget, with an eye toward you know really envisioning public safety and determining whether there are programs within APD that either should be discontinued or should be transferred to other departments and where we can find savings and efficiencies within APD so that we can identify funding for some of the really important community needs. I don't know what a realistic number will look like. I'm very eager to see, you know what the manager comes back with.”

How she would want to use additional money taken from the police budget:

“We have made good progress, but we still have huge needs within our social services and our public health arena. We have very large health disparities within our community and we have some successful interventions and some successful programs that very rarely can come to scale. We have made very good investments, for example, in workforce programs that also could benefit from some additional investment. There are youth programs that I believe have a very strong connection to public safety and would be great places to invest those funding. We're still a long way away from investing at the level we need to in those areas. Our reinvestments will be in different areas like social services, public health."

On how City Manager Spencer Cronk has led in this moment:

“I believe he has certainly heard from the council both individually and in public meetings, as well as, or from individual council members in public meetings, as well as in meetings some of us, maybe all of us, have had with him individually, that we need to see strong initiative and strong leadership and that has yet to come in this area.

“Change will not happen because of the leadership of one individual, for example, a police chief. It needs to be supported at upper management levels, and I really believe that for the kind of transformational change we're talking about, it really needs to be a broader leadership team working with the police department to effect that change. Transformational change really is going to require that strong leadership beyond APD to include the manager and needs to be done in conjunction with the community; it also needs to be done in conjunction with our police leadership and with the officers themselves. It needs to be all encompassing.

“I also thought it would be potentially useful to have some outside assistance in this to work. That doesn’t necessarily seem to be part of the managers plan at this point, but I think it is important to look at. I think if there are individuals who do great work in this area, then I think we should be open to hearing from them as well during this process.

“I would have preferred if some of the changes that [City Council] initiated had started with the manager, I've got to be honest about that. I think that some of the changes that we initiated with regard to the academy, with regard to some of the use-of-force policies and some of the others, really, I would have preferred if the manager had been leading on those efforts, hearing the community and responding to them with recommendations that he was presenting to Council. Having said that, we are where we are, and now I hold him accountable for making sure that the analysis that gets done and the recommendations that come forward are responsive to [City Council's] directions.”

Her reaction to Cronk keeping police Chief Brian Manley at his post despite calls for his removal:

“Ultimately, the city manager is accountable for the work of the police department. That's one reason why I think it's very important that the manager be very invested in leading and guiding and innovating around this issue. ... We've given strong direction to, to our manager. I believe you know he has he has begun to set up a leadership team to look at this issue. I'm interested to see what comes back, and I, certainly, am going to hold him accountable for doing the work that we've directed."


District 10 City Council Member Alison Alter

“I'm talking about reimagining public safety, not just reimagining police."



On police reform ideas she is thinking about:

“I'm talking about reimagining public safety, not just reimagining police. One of the things that I think is really important as part of this conversation builds off the work that I've done related to gun violence prevention. If our goal is to make people safer, both our officers and our community, we really need to get more guns off the streets.

“The other thing is thinking more broadly about how we deploy some of our medical resources and if there are better ways to do that. I'm intrigued by an idea of creating our chief medical officer position and being able to deploy our 2,000-some medical professionals to really improve the health and safety of our community.

“Also, the work that we started with respect to the Sexual Assault Response System and reforming that. I think as we get that information back we'll have some really good ideas about how we can support our victims and achieve more safety for folks who are threatened by sexual assault.”

On the idea of disbanding or replacing the police:

“I think that there are that there are roles for the police that are appropriate in addressing things. For me, what I want to be doing is reimagining public safety at this point in time; I still think they are important roles for APD, and I think we limit ourselves if we only focus on APD.”

On calls to make a $100 million cut to the Austin Police budget:

“You know, I'm focused on what do we need to do to get to transformational change. That was why I called for a change in public safety leadership in the first place. I am trying to understand what those steps are. I'm not interested in just moving pieces on a chessboard and calling them something else and saying that that adds up to $100 million. I'm focused on what is it that we need to do as a city to make sure everyone in our city feels safe.”

How she would want to use additional money taken from the police budget:

“So, I mean, I already mentioned the need to address gun violence, and one of the ideas that's going to come out of the task force is the creation of an Office of Violence Prevention, and there are models of that around the country where that's been successful. We need to make some investments via our parks and recreation department. They have counselor-in-training and cadet options over there. We need to increase the safety lighting and think about the recreation opportunities we're providing to our teams. We also need to think about our domestic violence, both the prevention of domestic violence and housing domestic violence victims.

“Then I would say, you know, obviously, our homelessness efforts could be improved. And we've talked about adding more funding for the Office of Police oversight and the Equity Office, as among those, and I also agree with [the creation of] mental health officers.”

On how City Manager Spencer Cronk has led in this moment:

“He has been reticent to get out in front ahead of council. We have been operating in a very short time frame, and so some of that is understandable. He is trying to catch up to where we are as all our views evolve. He is managing several crises at once. I think if we focus specifically on public safety, what I'm concerned about is, how do we get to transformational change? I will be looking at him to lead transformational change. At the moment I do not see how we get there without a big culture change without an environment where officers can bring forward their views without fearing retaliation, and the community has an opportunity to really be heard, and to help fashion things. This is an unprecedented moment in our city, and it's very difficult to know immediately how to respond perfectly. The goal is not perfection, but, I think for me, the issue is how do we take the steps necessary to transform public safety so everyone in our city feel safe."

Her reaction to Cronk keeping police Chief Brian Manley at his post despite calls for his removal:

“I do not control what happens with staff employment in our system of government. That is a decision that is left to the city manager. My job is to hold him accountable for the broader issue of reimagining public safety, and that's where he needs to get to. We have a long history of roadblocks and struggles with public safety leadership in the city. That it didn't change overnight is perhaps not surprising given the history. I do want to acknowledge that there are constraints in changing leadership in the midst of a pandemic. An interim chief would come from within the department, in all likelihood, which the community is not calling for. So I think we need to see if we're going to have this full embrace of the transformation, and whether they're going to admit that they have a problem. Absent that we're not going to get the reimagining to happen.

“I'm going to hold City Manager Cronk responsible for directing a transformation in how we deliver public safety. That transformation goes beyond the leadership choice. He can't just change the leadership and then leave everything else the same. That's not going to get us the goal we want. So, I think the city manager has to deliver on all fronts, and it's a big task. I am not sure that it can be done without changing leadership. But that is what I will be holding him accountable for.”

Editor's note: After several attempts, Community Impact Newspaper was unable to reach District 3 City Council Member Pio Renteria for an interview.
By Christopher Neely
Christopher Neely is Community Impact's Austin City Hall reporter. A New Jersey native, Christopher moved to Austin in 2016 following years of community reporting along the Jersey Shore. His bylines have appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Baltimore Sun, USA Today and several other local outlets along the east coast.


MOST RECENT

Graphic visualization of coronavirus
UT experts predict a 96% chance of worsening COVID-19 rates in Travis County in coming weeks

Travis County's health authority says individual actions can still turn the tide.

Early voting at the Ben Hur Shrine Temple
Some Austin-area polling locations have recorded 10,000-plus votes through first week of early voting

Three Williamson County polling locations have each reported more than 10,000 ballots cast in the first week of early voting.

Capital Metro celebrated the opening of a renovated and expanded downtown Austin MetroRail hub Oct. 19. (Courtesy Capital Metro)
Capital Metro opens downtown Austin station and more Central Texas news

Read the latest business and community news from the Austin area.

Photo of a wall of "I voted" stickers
More than 30% of Travis County voters have cast their ballot in first week of early voting

Both in-person voting and by-mail voting in Travis County are up compared to the first week of early voting in 2016.

Photo of the downtown metro station
Expanded MetroRail station opens in Austin's downtown

Captial Metro hosted a grand opening for the new station Oct. 19.

Callie Speer opened Holly Roller at 590 Rio Grande St., Austin, in 2017. (Jack Flagler/Community Impact Newspaper)
Downtown brunch and biscuit joint Holy Roller closes its doors

Owner Callie Speer opened the popular restaurant in the West Sixth Street area in 2017.

Photo of a "for sale" sign in front of a house
Austin home sales are on the comeback after bottoming out in early spring

Low inventory and a delayed summer boom in home sales resulted in high sales for Austin in September.

The public-access lagoon will serve as the centerpiece for more than 1 million square feet of commercial development, including a full-service hotel and conference center planned for the property. (Rendering courtesy city of Leander)
'Game changer' development with lagoon coming to Leander and more top Central Texas news

Read the most popular news from the Austin area from the past week.

Austin City Council unanimously supported aiming its local stimulus package toward the long-term viability of local at-risk businesses. (Courtesy ATXN)
Austin City Council wants limited local stimulus package to help small businesses outlast pandemic, not just pay rent

Austin's mayor said he wants businesses helped by the program to be better off than they were before the pandemic.

The public-access lagoon will serve as the centerpiece for more than 1 million square feet of commercial development, including a full-service hotel and conference center planned for the property. (Rendering courtesy city of Leander)
4-acre lagoon coming to Leander and more Central Texas news

Read the latest business and community news from the Austin area.