Gravell said during an Aug. 18 Commissioners Court meeting that he sent a letter to Gov. Greg Abbott, who also denounced the council’s decision. Gravell said he requested additional state troopers to be stationed in Williamson County to “help fill the void."
“I am concerned that with these extreme budget cuts that the citizens within the City of Austin that live within Williamson County will not remain protected at current levels,” the letter read.
Gravell requested the troopers work in coordination with Williamson County Sheriff Robert Chody and the Williamson County Sheriff's Office.
“I will not let politics get in the way of protecting our people,” Gravell said.
The roughly $150 million cut to the police department comes in three forms. About $21.5 million has been cut from the police department through, among other things, canceling three future cadet classes and reducing the overtime budget. Council members approved an immediate reinvestment of that $21.5 million into community programs, such as bolstering emergency medical services response, mental health crisis intervention and permanent supportive housing, all of which they said will enhance public safety.
City Council separated another $79.6 million out of the police budget in the form of functions such as the forensics lab, 911 dispatch and internal affairs. Council put these operations into their own budget, and city staff has been instructed to officially separate them into independent departments by the end of fiscal year 2020-21. The essence of these operations will remain the same, but they will no longer report to the police chief. They are a cut to the police budget but not a cut to the functions themselves, council said.
Council also voted to separate an additional $49.2 million from the police budget in the form of typical police operations and expenses, such as traffic enforcement, training and overtime pay. These will be the subject of a more in-depth, broad community process that will look at the essence of these dollars and functions and decide whether they could be better spent or alternatively performed.
Precinct 1 County Commissioner Cynthia Long, who represents a portion of Williamson County’s Austin residents, said she did not believe it was the place of the court to comment on decisions made by another elected body.
However, Long stated the court has a long history of supporting law enforcement that has not changed.
This was seconded by Precinct 3 Commissioner Valerie Covey, who reiterated she is not in favor of defunding the police—a rallying cry by those who support divesting police department funds and reallocating that money to nonpolicing forms of community safety.
“I believe in the men and women who put on a uniform each and every day running into buildings to risk their life to protect us,” Gravell said. “And I believe that is the consensus of the court that we support and believe in our officers.”