Hundreds of Austin, Texas Sex Offenders Left Without Police Supervision Because of Defunding
The ‘Defund the Police’ movement gained momentum in the US after the death of George Floyd in police custody, prompting a heated debate, as many demand police funding cuts and the reallocation of resources to other social protection programmes. Nonetheless, alarming crime rates have forced some city mayors to delay or reverse further cuts.
Hundreds of registered sex offenders have been left without police supervision in Austin, Texas, after the city authorities voted to defund the police and cut police academy classes, Fox News reported.
As of 2019, Austin had around 1,600 registered sex offenders, with nearly 650 of these cases being constantly reviewed and checked by the police to ensure that the offenders live at their reported addresses.
Three officers in charge of such supervision were said to have been removed and tasked with patrolling instead, so as “to prioritise the Department’s ability to respond to 911 phone calls and keep the community safe”. The decision was made after the funding reform in August 2020 that forced the department to cut the Sex Offender Apprehension and Registration Unit (SOAR).
Cases once managed by police officers will now reportedly be handled by civilian employees who have no authority to track and arrest sexual predators.
"The lack of cadet classes at APD over the last couple of years has contributed to an officer staffing shortage," the Austin Police Department (APD) told Fox News. “These officers’ duties and tasks while assigned to SOAR were to perform sex offender compliance checks, and to track down and arrest those with outstanding warrants. With the absence of these officers in the SOAR unit to assist with these tasks, the unit has limited capacity to perform these functions. There are currently 1 sergeant, 3 detectives, 1 full time civilian, and 2 part time civilians who now work in this unit."
According to Austin City Councilwoman Mackenzie Kelly, who spoke with two contractors that “oversee putting ankle monitors on violent offenders,” the latter often “remove the monitors and dump them in trash bins”.
“There are no officers going out to check on the whereabouts of these violent offenders and it appals me. At a very minimum the city is responsible for public safety and we are doing an injustice to victims of violent crimes by not staffing this unit," she said.
An Austin police officer, 13-year veteran Justin Berry, told the broadcaster that the situation directly contributed to a terrifying incident
that involved a sex predator, who had refused to register for several years and recently raped a 14-year-old teenager. The offender, Ronald Christopher Martin, was supposed to be handled by an officer who was assigned to patrol.
The reform was adopted in August 2020 after Mayor Steve Adler and Council Member Greg Casar, both Democrats, convinced the city council to vote for police funding cuts. Recent data showed that Austin saw 89 homicides last year compared to 59 in 2020.
There is still comprehensive research to be done to determine how the reforms
have affected crime rates, but according to numerous reports, many progressive Democratic mayors now face pressure from citizens, who are alarmed by surging crime rates.
3 November 2021, 18:34 GMT
So far, more than 50 cities across the US had cut police budgets for 2021 by 5.2 percent in aggregate, according to Bloomberg
. The total reduction in funding stood at $840 million
Meanwhile, murders have increased
by 15 percent last year compared to the same period in 2020, according to data from US cities. A number of mayors had to reverse their policies and increase police budgets, as has been seen in Washington DC, New York, Atlanta, Seattle, Austin and Oakland.
Despite some reforms undertaken at the state level, federal attempts to review policy law failed in September last year, after months of bipartisan talks in Congress concluded without a deal.