AUSTIN, Texas - Austin Police Association President Ken Casaday said the recent election made it clear the community does not want police officers to actively enforce drug and traffic laws.
So, he is telling association members to only respond to the calls they are assigned to moving forward. “What I'm telling my guys is, ‘Answer your calls and that is it,” said Casaday.
Casaday said he thinks it's time for officers in the city to stop actively enforcing non-violent crimes because that’s what city leaders and the public seem to want.
“They don't want an active police department. They don't want us enforcing traffic laws. They don't want us arresting people that don't want us or messing with homeless folks. They're very clear and we're going to take their lead. The productivity in the city's going to die,” Casaday said.
As the polls closed Tuesday, and Travis County District Attorney Margaret Moore conceded to challenger Jose Garza, Casaday said he and his members realized the community may not support law enforcement as much as they used to.
“The public just voted to put in someone to the district attorney's office that ran on prosecuting police and not prosecuting drug crimes, or hardly any other crimes, so that spoke very loud and clear what the citizens of Travis County want,” said Casaday.
Garza's campaign sent a statement in response that reads, "This week, the people of Travis County overwhelmingly voted for bold and necessary change to a broken criminal justice system that weighs most heavily on working people and people of color. They understand that we should implement smarter solutions to support the health and safety of our community. Jose looks forward to collaborating with the many hard-working officers who are dedicated to promoting public safety, including solving and prosecuting the cases that cause serious harm in this community.”
Ranjana Natarajan, a clinical professor at the University of Texas School of Law, said Garza's promise not to prosecute people who sell or possess less than a gram of drugs would better help those who need it.
“The research shows that prosecuting people for low-level drug possession offenses doesn't produce any public safety benefits. It doesn't help people get sober. It doesn't help people who are ready to get access to treatment. What it does is stigmatize them, and it causes them to lose their jobs, and have other consequences as a result of the arrest and spending time in jail,” said Natarajan.
She said freeing up police to focus on violent crimes instead would be more effective. “So it's actually very common sense to say, ‘Let's focus on more serious crimes’ from the law enforcement perspective, and not spend so much time harassing community members or stopping community members for low-level things like drug possession, or like traffic offenses,” Natarajan said.
Casaday said if the public and city leaders want officers to do less law enforcement and more responding, then that's what they should get.
“We'll respond to our calls, we'll handle our calls. The mayor doesn't want us doing traffic, so we don't need to be stopping people for speeding and running red lights. They've become very clear. That's what they want,” said Casaday.
However, Police Chief Brian Manley said that is not a directive from him.
In a statement, the chief writes, “The expectation from our department is that APD officers will continue to address violations they observe and take appropriate enforcement action as dictated by policy."
Austin Mayor Steve Adler said Casaday is incorrect. "It is because the community and I have such high respect for our officers, I'm confident they'll continue to do everything they can to help keep us all safe,” Adler said in a statement.
Chief Manley said he does not believe the city or the community wants officers to stop proactive policing.
Jose Garza will face off against Martin Harry in November election.