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Austin Police Reformers Sue City As Cases Against Officers Are Tossed

After 2020 social justice protests in the Texas capital, where police officers injured dozens by firing beanbag munitions into crowds, a liberal new district attorney vowed change. José Garza, elected on a platform of holding police officers accountable, indicted more than 20 officers involved in the protests, an action unlike anywhere else in the nation. Last week, most of those indictments were abruptly dropped, just as Austin is attempting to enact voter-demanded police reforms and trying to agree on a union contract to stem attrition in its police force. Mayor Kirk Watson said that the city had negotiated with the county district attorney to drop cases against 17 of the 21 officers charged to address “the very broken relationship between City Hall and our police," the Wall Street Journal reports.

Since taking office this year, Watson has tried to navigate between continued demand for reform and a beleaguered but dug-in police department. No one is happy. Proponents of police reform are upset that little has changed; they have sued the city, claiming officials are dragging their feet on implementing police transparency provisions overwhelmingly approved by voters in May. Police resent a lack of support, and are struggling to retain and recruit officers, leading to longer response times. Austin residents, in polls and ballot measures, have consistently expressed a desire both for well-funded policing and for more transparency.

Communities across the U.S. have grappled with disputes over policing since the 2020 murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis and social justice protests thereafter. In Austin, the public safety debate has been particularly intense, dividing a community as it pitted police against activists and Democratic city leaders against a Republican-led state. Austin, with a population just under one million, has boomed. Long the state’s safest big city, it has seen crime rates rise over the last five years but remain well below the state’s other large cities. 


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