Republican lawmakers push to punish cities that defeat police
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After the wave of Black Lives Matter protests last summer, supporters of criminal justice reform have increased calls to “dispel the police.” In Texas, that slogan has struck a nerve among some state lawmakers, who are moving in this session to penalize large cities that cut police budgets.
Supporters insist the House Bill 1900 is needed to help law enforcement, but critics believe it is little more than pro-police propaganda. State Representative Jasmine Crockett said the bill “defies logic”: The Republican Party, which claims a mantra of small government, is too keen to dictate what big cities can do with their money.
“There is nothing monolithic about any part of Texas, honestly, and with us being the size that we are, it’s very difficult to write policies that make sense to everyone,” said the Dallas Democrat. “It was unfortunate that they adopted this attitude.”
HB 1900 is a push by the Republican-majority legislature to micromanage large cities, said Crockett, most of which are headed by Democratic mayors.
If enacted, a city with more than 250,000 inhabitants would be penalized for reducing its police funding. The state would be allowed to use a portion of that city’s sales taxes to pay for the costs of the Texas Department of Public Safety, and the city would also be prohibited from raising property taxes or utility rates to offset this. loss.
Last week, HB 1900 was approved by a 90-49 vote. A related Senate bill passed last month that would require cities to hold elections before making budget cuts for law enforcement.
In some years, the Dallas City Council may want to temporarily increase its police budget in anticipation of hosting a large-scale event, like the Super Bowl, Crockett said. On other occasions, cities may choose to purchase expensive items like tanks. HB 1900 would mean that cities can never get their police budget back to normal without being penalized.
One of the bill’s sponsors, Democrat Richard Peña Raymond, argued that the increased funding is the way to improve policing and other essential functions, according to The Texas Tribune. Yet crime rates have risen even in cities that have increased their police budgets, including Republican-run Fort Worth.
It is not anti-police to embezzle funds where appropriate, as it will ensure that officers can focus on just one job instead of 50, Crockett said. But her conservative colleagues are less focused on solutions than on serving “red meat” at their core, she argued.
“It’s not a question of money. Money doesn’t solve crime, right? Crockett said. “What corrects crime is actually being smart against crime.”
Critics of HB 1900 noted that lawmakers also passed a constitutional bill despite fierce opposition from key law enforcement officials, including the Dallas Police Chief. Eddie Garcia. Others have pointed out that budgets for essential services like health care and education are not so sacrosanct.
Either way, the pro-police bills garner broad Conservative support.
One of the authors of HB 1900, Republican Representative for the State of Fort Worth, Craig Goldman, tweeted last week that lawmakers “will always do everything in their power to ensure the public safety of the citizens of Texas and #BackTheBlue ”. The tweet included a video of an avid Governor Greg Abbott speaking to the Harris County GOP.
“In Texas, we don’t reject or disrespect our police,” Abbott said, eliciting applause. “We support our law enforcement officers who put their lives at risk to keep our communities safe.”
But some state lawmakers have joined with Crockett in condemning the bill, including Democratic state representative Michelle Beckley of Carrollton. She said in a Tweeter that HB 1900 is a “blatantly partisan effort” by Republicans that would apply to only 11 cities, mostly Democrats.
Supporters of criminal justice reform are equally outspoken about the bill. Last week, the criminal justice blog Grits for Breakfast tweeted that the bill could have unintended consequences: “If they pass # HB1900, the affected cities will likely stop all spending increases for cops because they won’t. will never be able to cancel them. “
Finally someone said it out loud: if they pass # HB1900, the affected cities will likely stop all increases in spending for cops, as they will never be able to reverse them.
– Grits for breakfast (@ Grits4Breakfast) May 6, 2021
Lee Kleinman, a member of the Dallas District 11 city council, called HB 1900 a “punishing bill” that would usurp city authority.
The bill would give the governor’s office its own ad hoc decision-making power, he said. It is regrettable and ironic that the “supposedly conservative legislature” is so involved in this type of central planning.
“If lawmakers wanted to be in charge of municipalities, they would have to run for city council,” Kleinman said.
Dallas cut its police overtime budget by $ 7 million last year. But despite some rhetoric, notably from the obscure Keep Dallas Safe group, the city increased DPD’s overall budget by $ 15 million.
“QAnon theories aside, Dallas didn’t cancel the policy,” Kleinman said.
Adding more cops and money doesn’t solve the fundamental problem, but when the city tries to solve the central problem, it gets punished in Austin, he said.
One example is the city’s RIGHT Care program which deploys a police officer, medical technician and social worker to defuse tense situations, he said. As a result of this effort, hundreds of people who could have gone to jail were diverted to an appropriate location, such as a hospital or mental health services.
Solutions like these can prevent conflict while lightening the workload for officers, Kleinman said.
“Clearly, there is no understanding on the part of the Legislature on how crime prevention works,” he said. “They believe crime prevention is just more hammers, and there is more to it.”
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