Proposition A would have compelled Austin officials to drastically increase the ranks of the city’s police force. Credit: Evan L’Roy/The Texas Tribune

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Austin voters appear to be rejecting a ballot proposition that would have forced the city to hire hundreds of new police officers, according to unofficial election results that were still coming in late Tuesday. The measure’s failure would be a tacit endorsement of the city’s new scaled-down approach to policing.

By a wide margin, voters seem poised to reject Proposition A — which would have required Austin to hire enough police officers to have two on patrol for every 1,000 residents.

The group Save Austin Now, which backed the measure, attempted to seize on the city’s growing number of homicides, lengthening police response times and shrinking officer ranks to persuade voters to approve the measure.

Opponents of Proposition A — including Mayor Steve Adler and the unions that represent Austin firefighters and paramedics — warned of dire financial fallout for the city if the proposition passed, saying deep cuts in the city’s budget would lead to fewer firefighters, medics and librarians.

Adler said the proposition would have forced Austin to adopt an “antiquated police staffing model,” and appeared to claim victory over the attempt late Tuesday.

“This election reaffirms our community’s belief that public safety for all requires a comprehensive system that includes properly staffing our police, but also our fire, EMS, and mental health responses as well,” Adler said in a tweet.

Opposition group No Way on Prop A called the early voting results a victory for Austinites and democracy. The safest cities have more resources, not more police, campaign manager Laura Hernandez Holmes said in a press release.

Like many major U.S. cities, Austin has seen an uptick in homicides during the COVID-19 pandemic. So far this year, the city has recorded 75 homicides — resulting in the city’s highest homicide rate in two decades, according to statistics from the Austin Police Department. Proposition A’s backers argued the city needs more officers to slow the rise in homicides — an idea that has prompted mixed reactions among crime experts.

Other forms of crime have dropped this year after crime increased in Austin from 2019-20. Overall, crime in Austin is down from the beginning of the 2010s.

Ultimately, voters signaled they didn’t think boosting the ranks of the police force was a necessary move to combat the growing homicide rate — or the correct way to go about police reform.

Shortly after the unofficial early voting results dropped, the Austin Police Association released a statement thanking Save Austin Now and those who voted for the failed proposition. The police union called on the City Council to hire 300 more officers.

Save Austin Now co-founder Matt Mackowiak called the incoming results a “disappointment” in a speech Tuesday night. But he said the organization moved the conversation around policing in a meaningful direction. He added that opponents who still said the city should hire more police officers and implement increased training will now have to keep their word.

“This council now is going to have to move in favor of public safety,” Mackowiak said. “Are they going to go as far as we would have liked, as Prop A would have taken us? No, they’re not, at least not in the short term.”

The apparent defeat for Save Austin Now came months after the organization successfully backed a May referendum that restored the city’s ban on homeless encampments. In the days leading up to the vote, Save Austin Now flooded Austinites’ phones with text messages imploring them to pass the measure.

No Way on Prop A drew high-dollar donations, particularly $500,000 from liberal billionaire George Soros’ Open Policy Center, to try to beat back the proposition.

The Austin measure was among several referendums in U.S. cities to decide what their police forces should look like. Incomplete counts suggest voters in Albany, New York, and Cleveland were backing measures to provide more civilian oversight for their police departments.

Most prominent was a ballot measure in Minneapolis — the center of the roiling national debate over police reform — to scrap its police department and replace it with a new Department of Public Safety. Voters rejected the measure, according to CNN.

Disclosure: Austin Mayor Steve Adler, a former Texas Tribune board chair, has been a financial supporter of the Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune’s journalism. Find a complete list of them here.

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The Texas Tribune is the only member-supported, digital-first, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.

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