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Breaking down the Reimagining Public Safety task force’s recommendations

Monday, May 10, 2021 by Sean Saldaña

Last month, the city’s newly formed joint city-community Reimagining Public Safety task force released its 2021 mid-year recommendations report. At over 70 pages long, the report’s proposals range from popular police reform policy changes to ideas that would fundamentally reshape the way the city operates.

Early in the report, the task force makes its ambitions and worldview clear, stating, “The U.S. became the wealthiest country in the world via intentional policies and practices of exploitation and genocide.”

It continues, “The system of racial capitalism has cemented a racial hierarchy in all markers of life, including health, income and wealth, with white communities at the top, Black communities at the bottom, and other communities of color in between.”

Among the more popular reforms recommended is the decoupling of the city’s police force from traffic stop enforcement. The proposal advocates for hiring and training unarmed civil servants to direct traffic and make stops for moving violations. Similar reforms aimed at eliminating racial profiling in traffic stops are making headway in Virginia, Oregon, and even Houston.

The task force makes similar proposals with other “non-crime related matters,” like mental health calls, interactions with the city’s homeless population and noise complaints.

The report doesn’t shy away from making a number of more sweeping proposals. For example, if a tenant has lived in the same abode since 1980, their rent would not exceed a “maximum base rent,” effectively establishing rent control for some longtime Austin residents.

Another proposal that could change life in Austin is testing out a guaranteed income program. According to the report, the program would distribute $1,000 a month to 200 households for one year, targeting those who need the funds the most. The logistics of the program would largely be handled by the city’s Equity Office.

The task force also calls for more citizen access to city resources like city buildings, equipment and police vehicles, and even goes as far as to “demand public and community ownership of city equity and property.”

One recommendation proposes setting aside $500,000 a year to “create a subsidy program to incentivize landlords to rent at reduced and stabilized rates to low-income trans people of color” and an additional $600,000 to fund “black trans-led initiatives around the city, including a community housing trust.”

The focal point for many of these proposed changes are neighborhood “hubs” that would be managed by “local grassroots organizations and administered by the city’s Equity Office in collaboration with Austin Public Health.”

The hubs, which would be located throughout the city, would handle much of the boots-on-the ground work of resource distribution. The report urges that at least five of these hubs be established starting in Fiscal Year 2021-22.

Should this hub model be adopted, the task force envisions the hubs being staffed and managed by local community members who could “reach residents at their doorstep in order to meet needs and bridge the gap left by poor accessibility and navigation.”

Which, if any, of these grand proposals will be adopted remains to be seen, but so far at least one of the report’s long-term goals – eliminating police cadet classes – seems to have fallen flat.

Last week, City Council voted to authorize a cadet class, on a trial basis, that is set to commence in June. Under this updated pilot training model, cadets will be required to take a class on the history of policing in America.

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