Texas Gov. Greg Abbott announced Thursday that he is reviewing legislation that would remove control of the Austin Police Department from the capital city, and place them under state authority.
Abbott’s tweet is the latest attempt by the GOP to protect police from defunding as Austin became the first Texas city to vote in favor of shifting financial resources, in the wake to the Blake Lives Matter protests which have erupted across the nation in response to police brutality against Black Americans.
“This proposal for the state to takeover the Austin Police Department is one strategy I’m looking at,” Abbott tweeted Thursday. “We can’t let Austin’s defunding & disrespect for law enforcement to endanger the public & invite chaos like in Portland and Seattle.”
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The legislation, which guides the governor on how to assert state authority in a specific locality that in some manner affects the entire state, was handed to Abbott last week by former state representatives Terry Keel and Ron Wilson.
The legislation put in front of Abbott by the former GOP state officials, dictates that a police force in a city that has a population of over one million, with less than two police officers per 1,000 residents — a scenario Houston happens to fall under, would be able to be absorbed by the Texas Department of Public Safety.
A new police unit would then be formed under the state government in that city, if the governor were able to determine “insufficient municipal resources being appropriated for public safety needs,” according to the Texas Tribune, who received a copy of the letter sent to Abbott.
“That letter basically is a roadmap to how the legislature can address the problem in Austin,” Keel reportedly told the Texas publication last week. “Because Austin opened the door to the legislature doing that, by defunding the police and by creating a public safety crisis.”
Keel is also a former Travis County sheriff.
Austin’s Mayor Steve Adler pushed back on the governor’s announcement, and place blamed on President Trump’s rhetoric against the protests.
“Austin is the safest big city in Texas and one of the safest in the country. Public safety is our priority and we support our police. We’re also always looking for ways for everyone to be even more safe,” Adler said in a statement tof Fox News.
“Not surprising the President’s rhetoric is finding its way to Texas as we get closer to November,” the mayor added.
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Protests against police brutality and racial injustices have occurred across the nation following the death of George Floyd, a Minneapolis Black man that died after a police officer knelt on his neck for nine minutes, in May.
New rounds of protests again broke out following the shooting of Jacob Blake, a Black man who was shot in the back seven times by a Kenosha, Wisc., police officer in August.
But Austin residents have had their own experiences with what they believe is excessive police force on Black and Hispanic residents.
Austin police officers shot and killed an unarmed Black and Hispanic man, Mike Ramos, after he reportedly drove away from officers in April.
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During the protests that followed the incident, both a Black man and Hispanic boy were injured after police officers struck them in the head with bean bag rounds.
Calls to remove the police chief reportedly went unanswered, but the City Council issued a vote of no confidence in the Austin police leadership in June. A follow up vote in August cut the police budget by a third, according to the Texas Tribune.
The Austin mayor’s office could not be immediately reached for comment.