Both McCracken and Leffingwell knew years ago their support for massive police raises would cause this result. They were told, I can personally assure you. They said they didn't care. But now this news is a "wake up call"? It takes a lot of chutzpah to believe the public is stupid enough to accept that flip flop! Leffingwell in particular during his campaigns apologetically told opponents of the last police contract that he's afraid to confront the police union and feels like he must give them whatever they want to keep getting re-elected. No wonder he's asking for more "information"! The information all the rest of us have available indicates he and his colleagues are to blame.
"These numbers are eye-opening," City Council Member Brewster McCracken said Monday. "It is a wake-up call about a concerning budget trend."
Council Member Lee Leffingwell said he wants more information before forming an opinion about the new data, including whether the other cities had comparable growth rates.
"It would be premature to jump to any conclusions without that information," he said.
Though I first began focusing on criminal justice policy because of a local Austin case, I pay little attention to APD policy anymore because it's just too frustrating: Our local city council has for years been in the pocket of local police union, and the liberals who tend to get elected are so scared someone will label them "soft on crime" they fall over one another to give the cops more money while opposing added accountability. Bottom line: Austin needed more officers over this period, but the council caved in to union demands to dramatically boost pay for those already on the force and fill gaps with overtime. That made it financially impossible to hire uniformed cops in the numbers the city should have and squeezed out other budget priorities. (In the same contract they gutted Austin's already weak civilian oversight of police.)
Now, though, years of pandering have come home to roost in the city budget. The Statesman reports that APD costs went up 84% over the last nine years, "while expenses in six other departments, including Dallas and San Antonio, increased 34 percent at most."
It's absurd for councilmembers to claim they didn't know these policies would make Austin lose control of its police budget - me and a couple hundred other Austinites showed up to tell them exactly what the budget impact would be, both before they approved the current union contract and the one in 2001. Indeed, I testified at city council back in 1998 to complain about high costs in Austin's very first "meet and confer" contract, particularly because, like other recent APD raises, it was bestowed with no added accountability in return. For anyone at the city to claim these numbers were unexpected beggars credibility.
Chief Art Acevedo asks the question, "Can you put a pricetag on public safety?" Well of course you can, sir! It's called "your budget." The questions before us are a) why that pricetag is so much higher for Austinites than everyone else, and b) what if any additional public safety benefit do we gain from it?
I think the answers are a) political pandering, and b) not much.