Austin Fire Department staff oppose measure of police staffing ballot

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Fearing it could cost them their jobs, Austin firefighters said on Friday they would spend union money to fight a ballot proposal that, if voters approve, would force the city to spend hundreds of dollars. thousands of taxpayer dollars to hire more police officers.

The decision adds the voice of firefighters to those who oppose Proposal A and say it would have significant financial consequences for the city’s budget if passed.

Friday’s announcement by firefighters could threaten relations between Austin’s two public safety departments, pitting them against each other in the Nov. 2 election.

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The decision to formally oppose the ballot came with a vote this week from the Austin Fire Department. According to union president Bob Nicks, more than half of the approximately 1,100 members participated in the vote. Among them, 57% voted against the proposal and 43% preferred to remain neutral, he said.

By campaigning against the law enforcement plan, the union will spend $ 15,000 of its own money plus any money generated from outside contributions. Nicks said the union will not accept funds from any anti-police groups.

“The vote was never about disrespecting the police,” Nicks said at a press conference on Friday. “It was only a question of examining the negative consequences of a poorly drafted law.

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Other people who have spoken out against Prop A include most of the Austin City Council, the Travis County Democratic Party, and criminal justice reform groups.

The police staffing plan begins by requiring the city to employ two officers per 1,000 inhabitants.

A second provision states that 35% of an agent’s work shift must be devoted to unengaged time – often referred to as community engagement time – and not answering calls. To ensure shifts are adequately staffed, city workers say even more than two officers per 1,000 residents are needed. The true ratio, they say, is between 2.1 per 1,000 and 2.5 per 1,000.

Weighing police attrition rates against Austin’s current population and projected growth, the city is expected to hire an additional 403 to 885 officers over the next five years, according to the city’s calculations. The cost to do so is $ 271.5 to $ 598.8 million, depending on the city.

To find funding, the city may have to cut funding from other departments.

A graphic distributed by city council member Greg Casar suggests potentially large cuts to the Austin fire department: 300 to 400 fire stations and $ 30 to 40 million. The annual firefighters budget is $ 219 million, the second in the city’s $ 1.2 billion general budget behind the police department’s $ 442 million.

Other departments that might feel the pinch from Prop A include EMS, Parks, and Libraries.

“We appreciate the Austin Firefighters Association’s willingness to shoot directly with Austin residents on the true cost of Proposition A,” Mayor Steve Adler said in a written statement. “If passed, it would result in cuts to municipal services like parks and swimming pools and stations like firefighters, paramedics and mental health workers. We know this was a difficult and very unusual endorsement for the Austin Firefighters Association, and we applaud their objective approach to this election. “

The position of the firefighters union was unusual, as it has always supported individual candidates but did not take a position on the ballot proposals. But Nicks said he held the vote because he felt it directly involved the firefighters.

Ahead of the vote, Austin Police Association president Ken Casady urged firefighters to remain neutral and noted that police were not involved in a firefighter-backed proposal in May. This proposal concerned binding arbitration in contract negotiations with the city.

Save Austin Now co-founders Matt Mackowiak and Cleo Petricek released a statement saying they continue to support firefighters even after the vote.

“The AFA has decided to stand against Austin police in the deepest personnel crisis in city history amid a wave of violent crime affecting every neighborhood,” the statement said. . “We will continue to fight for public safety in Austin and we know the Austin firefighters will too, although Bob Nicks will not.”

The police force has fallen to 1,809 sworn positions after losing 150 in 2020 due to budget cuts. Over 200 of these positions are vacant and it could be years before they are filled, regardless of the outcome of Proposal A.

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