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Texas Cities Facing Tight Budgets Could Be Pressured by State on Police Funding

Calls for police reform and defunding the police are not new. A social movement has existed at least for as long as I can remember calling for police reform, and I am a member of Generation “X”. For those of you that don’t know, Generation “X” is smack dab between Baby Boomers and Millennials.

According to the ACLU’s Paige Fernandez, “When people ask for police reform, many are actually asking for this oppressive system to be dismantled and to invest in institutions, resources, and services that help communities grow and thrive.” Now, the Black Lives Matter movement has become stronger and voiced support for defunding. This movement has been strengthened by the public’s reaction, protest, and dismay after several police officers have killed black people without legal justification.

Somehow this has been politicized so that the red party in the U.S.A. decry claims to defund the police and label members of the blue party in the U.S.A. as Socialists, Marxists, and Communists because they are proponents of police reform.

Here in Texas, Governor Greg Abbott, along with Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and House Speaker Dennis Bonnen, announced to the press on August 18th that they will push for legislation next year that would freeze property tax revenues for cities that cut police budgets, just days after the Austin City Council approved a budget that cuts police funding. The Texas Legislature convenes early in 2021 and in the last few sessions has trended toward removal of local municipal control on all types of municipal matters. Abbott stated: “Cities that endanger residents by reducing law enforcement should not then be able to turn around and go back and get more property tax dollars from those same residents whose lives the city just endangered.”

Mind you, the Austin cuts accomplish things like moving forensics outside of the management of the police department to become separate municipal offices and by reinvesting money in social services. Better policing and quality law enforcement has nothing to do with the number of officers a department has. If Abbott’s threat seems excessive, it is. Austin is the only large Texas city (so far) that has “defunded” the police department and moved funds elsewhere. Austin is also a predominantly blue city and the Governor is not a member of that party. Other large cities in Texas have been historically understaffed; here in Houston, the mayor and city council are perpetually trying to increase funding for law enforcement.

The Governor, yet again, is attacking local municipal control. Let’s see how that works for Texas. Local governments are already suffering economic losses due to the pandemic. It is municipal budget season for all Texas cities now and municipal dollars are tight. Texas cities are feeling the sting of decreased sales tax revenue, decreased hotel occupancy tax revenue, and caring for small businesses and populations of unemployed residents. Hopefully, our local legislators ignore the threat by Abbott, Patrick, and Bonnen and recognize the attempt to remove autonomy from Texas cities.

Presumably, (unless you are a career criminal) we all want a professional, well-trained, educated police force that is properly compensated. This is a challenge for all cities. Officers wear many hats and perhaps it is time to re-evaluate how the services they provide can be reorganized, reassigned, or done away with. Think about what we rely on our police officers for: responding to domestic disturbance calls, domestic violence calls, burglar alarms going off, fender-benders, driver’s that are intoxicated or under the influence, bounced checks, stolen goods, expired registration or license plates on your car, welfare checks on the homeless living on the corner or under the freeway, responding during a pandemic or natural disaster, and of course the horrible crimes of homicide, manslaughter, rape, kidnapping, and child abuse. Here on the Gulf Coast, our law enforcement officers have to be good swimmers and know how to operate some type of water vehicle to aid in bad weather rescues.

In Texas, police officers, sheriff’s, constable, state troopers, county park rangers are commissioned by Texas as “Peace Officers”. Texas Code of Criminal Procedure Article 2.12 Who Are Peace Officers lists 35 different categories of peace officers. It’s time to focus on our peace officers and how we can make them more productive and useful components of our communities, and only our mayors, councilmembers, and residents of each and every community know how to do that.

Please do not rely on this article as legal advice. We can tell you what the law is, but until we know the facts of your given situation, we cannot provide legal guidance. This website is for informational purposes and not for the purposes of providing legal advice. Information about our municipal law practice can be found here.

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