Active and former members of the Austin, Texas police department sounded the alarm to Fox News Digital about cratered police morale and untenable staffing issues they say are a direct result of police department defunding and actions by the county’s progressive district attorney.
“Everybody who keeps getting elected here is just further to the left every time, it’s gone from more passively anti-police to, what you’ve really seen since 2020, is just overtly anti-police,” an Austin police officer, who wished to remain anonymous, told Fox News Digital. “I think that has been a big tipping point for a lot of people and we’ve just had enough.”
The Austin City Council voted to slash 30% of the police budget following the Black Lives Matter riots in the summer of 2020 following the death of George Floyd. The move cut roughly $20 million from the budget immediately and over $100 million in the future.
“We did it!! Austin City Council just reduced APD’s budget by over $100 million *and* reinvested resources into our community’s safety and well-being,” former Austin City Council Member Greg Casar, who is now running for Congress, tweeted at the time of his vote. “Tens of thousands of you have called, emailed, and testified. You made the impossible into a reality. #blacklivesmatter.”
Two years later, a police survey in the city showed that only 25% of department employees feel “valued” at work, and only 20% believed their department was well managed.
“Mayor and City Council seems to have no idea how much their decisions have negatively impacted APD and the citizens of Austin,” one police department employee wrote. “Employee morale among sworn staff is so low.”
Austin set an annual homicide record in 2021 with 89 murders, and staffing shortages have meant officers no longer respond to non-emergency calls in many cases.
Additionally, certain task forces within the department have been eliminated, leaving some classes of crime largely ignored. Hundreds of sex offenders are no longer being tracked or followed up on thoroughly due to staffing shortages, in part because 202 budget cuts derailed cadet classes and left slots on the force vacated by retirement unfilled.
Progressive activist Jose Garza, who ran on a platform of “reimagining” policing and prosecuting police officers, was elected as Travis County district attorney in January 2021. Garza has earned criticism, especially from families of crime victims, for his lenient sentencing policies, as well as indicting police officers.
While the Austin City Council approved $442 million budget for the APD in 2021, which KXAN-TV reported is the highest it has ever been, current and former officers told Fox News Digital the demonization of the police in 2020 along with staffing shortages and retirements that came from the vote to slash their budget has had disastrous consequences.
“Radical activists” who had been content to simply protest city government have now “infiltrated” the Austin City Council and the district attorney’s office in Austin and are waging a “war on cops” from the inside, calling for “absurd levels of oversight” that are “nonsensical,” the officer told Fox News Digital.
“It’s crushing morale,” the officer said, adding that Austin has essentially become the “epicenter” of the defund the police movement that has had a “massive impact” on the department.
Another current Austin police officer told Fox News Digital that staffing shortages have forced detectives to take part in mandatory street patrols, depriving serious crimes from receiving the attention they require.
“Things are bad here,” the officer said, adding that the situation is the “worst I’ve seen” since joining the force. “We don’t have the units we used to have because everybody is having to go back and work the streets.”
“They’ve disbanded all the specialized units,” former Austin police sergeant Greg White, who in retired in 2021, told Fox News Digital. “You can promote, but even then you’re going to be back on patrol doing backfill. It interferes with investigations. You’ve got guys that are detectives trying to work cases, like sexual assaults and murders and everything else, and they’re getting pulled back to work backfill because there aren’t any bodies in the streets.”
Last week, KVUE-TV reported that there are at least 220 vacancies in the Austin Police Department, and the union that serves the department warned that officers do not have the staffing to handle the overlap of the Austin City Limits Music Festival and Texas Longhorns football game.
“At last report, nearly half of our patrols were below the authorized ‘minimum staffing’ level,” the Austin Police Association tweeted. “Officers are doing their best to cover all necessary services, but your patience is much appreciated, especially now. This is why it is vital that city leadership prioritizes funding and staffing for APD. Please make sure to support pro-public safety candidates at the polls later this month!”
A former Austin police officer, who wished to remain anonymous due to still being an active law enforcement officer elsewhere, told Fox News Digital that the decision to leave Austin was made when “communist activists” began being appointed to positions of leadership in the city.
“I left because every day I went to work, I worried about being made into a political pawn,” the officer said. “I worried that a good faith decision that I would make would lead to my long term suspension or firing or indictment, and largely simply due to the race of the subject that I was conducting.”
Garza, who was backed by progressive liberal mega donor George Soros, took office in January 2021 after campaigning on a pledge to hold police officers accountable and prosecute them for misconduct.
Since then, Garza has pursued charges against a previously indicted police officer, who was acquitted earlier this month, and indicted 19 police officers for their involvement in quelling a Black Lives Matter riot in 2020.
“The multiple officers that have since been indicted by DA Garza kind of only confirmed the gut feeling I had at the time,” the former Austin police officer said. “I really just saw it coming. And so I left because I didn’t want to have my career ruined and exit impeded if I stuck around. And that really just proved to be true.”
The Austin Police Department averaged 13 officer resignations a year from 2010-2017. From 2018-2021, that average ballooned to 44 officers per year, and KTBC-TV reported that 37 officers have resigned so far in 2022.
White explained that roughly 300 Austin police officers will be eligible to retire in March. Additionally, he said that the demonization of police, staffing issues, and a potential failure to negotiate a new labor contract between police and the city in the coming months, could cause officers to lose certain benefits. The environment could make retirement an attractive option.
“Why would you stay?” White asked. “You’re already down hundreds of officers, and now you’re going to be facing another shortfall. The next two cadet classes they have, over the next 6-8 months, are going to be pushing out about 100 cops and that’s if everyone graduates. That’s unacceptable.”
White told Fox News Digital that Garza’s election was a big reason he opted to retire from the Austin Police Department. He says he feared that even if a shooting he was involved in was justifiable, Garza’s office could attempt to prosecute him. Officers typically receive what is known as a “bust out check” when they retire that includes vacation time and other unused benefits, but those checks are withheld if an officer resigns or retires while under active investigation.
“For me personally, I wasn’t going to lose all that money when I had an opportunity to retire with a full pension and with a full pension and everything else and get the bust out check. I wasn’t going to stay any longer,” White said about his 2021 retirement after 23 years on the force.
White said that he, like many officers when he first started, planned to serve for 30 or more years in a job…