The Texas Municipal Police Association (TMPA) posted two billboards along Interstate 35 in Austin after the city council decided last month to cut the Austin police budget. One of them reads, “Warning! Austin disappointed the police. Enter at your own risk!”
The second, according to the association, is “Limited support for the next 20 miles”.
TMPA, the largest law enforcement association in Texas, said on Facebook that it posted the billboards – including the hashtag #BacktheBlue – “to raise public awareness of Austin as a defunct city.”
Texas Governor Dan Patrick backed the campaign, tweeting it “great new billboards” on Wednesday while Texas Governor Greg Abbott tweeted about it using the hashtag #TexasBacksTheBlue.
Abbott has urged every Texan and candidate for public office to sign a pledge against relief for state police forces and post it on social media Thursday afternoon to demonstrate support for law enforcement.
“Defunding our police forces would invite crime into our communities and put people at risk,” the promise said. “Therefore, I promise to support any action that discourages or stops efforts to relieve the Texas police force.”
“Defunding the Police” was a focus of attention for protesters who took to the streets in Minneapolis in the last few months following the death of George Floyd by police. Some cities in the US have responded to the calls as part of a wider movement against racial injustice and police brutality.
Supporters have said that “defunding” is not about removing all funds for police departments. The practice is often a redistribution of some money from law enforcement to other services that could help the community.
In Austin, the city council last month approved a $ 150 million cut in funds for the Austin police force, with most of the money being channeled to other departments and social services, according to CBS Austin.
Austin Mayor Steve Adler and other councilors argue the changes will improve public safety. He went on Twitter last month to explain the changes.
“This budget responds to concerns raised across the community and embodies our values as a city. New investments focus on the underlying causes of crime,” he wrote.
The new budget will maximize officers’ efforts and invest in programs and strategies to reduce crime, Adler said.
Adler has labeled Denver as a city that has effectively changed its law enforcement agency, reports CBS Austin. Denver is now sending mental health workers in place of the police to respond to non-violent 911 calls. Adler said none of the calls in Denver required police assistance. This frees officers for other police work.
While cities like Denver and Austin refer to the defunding effort as a “reform of public safety,” others, including Texas Governor Abbott, see a threat to law and order, according to CBS Austin.
However, according to Adler, Austin remains the safest big city in Texas. “I mean, you could increase the number of murders in Austin by 50 percent and you still wouldn’t get to where Fort Worth is, a smaller town than we are,” said the mayor.
At a press conference Thursday, Abbott, a Republican, was accompanied by other officials who signed the pledge against the relief of police departments in the state.
The Texas Democrats made their own pledge in response to the Back the Blue campaign. The Democrats ‘Texas First Pledge includes protecting public health by following scientists’ recommendations to respond to COVID-19, meet pre-existing conditions, and support small businesses and educational institutions. The party shared the pledge on Twitter, calling on Abbott and Senator John Cornyn, a Republican, to sign it.