On the Austin "decruitment" website, the video describes the city as "one of the most exciting cities in America" and urges officers to quit to "protect our citizens and visitors." (Photo by Kyra O'Connor/News21)

Austin artists launch ‘decruiting’ campaign to discourage police recruits, persuade officers to quit

Sept. 20, 2022

AUSTIN, Texas – Andie Flores was waiting at a stoplight when her eyes landed on a bumper sticker on the police car in front of her, urging potential recruits to join the department.

The sticker reminded her of the huge recruitment banner hanging from the Austin Police Department’s building, just off Interstate 35 where motorists could see it. It read: “Together we can achieve more.”

Flores, a performance artist, supports defunding or abolishing police departments. So she started playing with the words and thinking about the impact of so many visual markers in her city.

What if you changed one letter, from recruitment to decruitment? And what if it wasn’t a billboard but a website?

Flores and her collaborator, Sam Lavigne, an assistant professor of design at University of Texas at Austin, launched the APD Decruitment Initiative on June 27 to discourage new recruits from joining the department and persuade existing officers to quit.

They produced a video announcing the initiative, with the narrator stating: “As our population grows, we have a need for more highly qualified, motivated and compassionate people to stop becoming and quit being police officers, in order to protect our citizens and visitors, and to serve our community.”

The video includes testimonials from former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, former Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio and former Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke unwittingly encouraging officers to quit. The artists commissioned the appearances through the video platform Cameo, which allows people to pay celebrities to record tailored individual messages.

“So many of our decruits have gone on to thrive as active, patient, openhearted members of our city,” the video states.

The website lists reasons for decruitment, including such assertions that “Police don’t stop violent crime” and “Police reform doesn’t work.” The site allows users to download posters with messages, including “It’s never too late to change.”

Businesses participating in the initiative offer 10% discounts, or free admission to a theatrical performance, to officers who can prove they have resigned.

“It’s a very new sort of idea to a lot of people,” Flores said. “Which makes it exciting to some and scary to others. And just like with any new idea, the more people talk about it and get comfortable with it and get on board, the less scary it will be.”

Like many police departments across the country, Austin has struggled to find new officers.

Andie Flores and Sam Lavigne’s “APD Decruitment Initiative” installation was part of the Fusebox “The ‘It’s NOT’ Fair” in Austin, Texas, in April 2022. (Photo courtesy of Leon Alesi)

In August 2020, after months of nationwide public protest spurred by the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis, the Austin City Council canceled training academies and reallocated about $150 million, a third of the department’s total annual budget, to other other public health and safety services.

This decreased the number of sworn officer positions by 150 in 2021, from 1,959 to 1,809. But as of July, the Austin department had only 1,550 officers, according to an article from KVUE, Austin’s ABC news affiliate. The department refers to its recruiting struggles as a human resource crisis, resulting in some officers working double overtime to cover shifts.

Ken Casaday, president of the Austin Police Association, the department’s labor union, told KVUE they may need to enlist the help of other state agencies, such as the Texas Department of Public Safety.

“I think we’re getting close to needing to come to some kind of a resolution with the sheriff’s department and maybe DPS,” Casaday said. “You know, Dallas had the situation a few years back and they had to bring in state troopers from all over the state of Texas to work to answer 911 calls in Dallas for an extended period of time.”

Austin police did not respond to a request for comment.

Flores and Lavigne said they haven’t had a large response to the decruitment campaign; they suspect that’s because the website is relatively new. They hope to add targeted mailers and bumper stickers and offer additional business discounts to officers who resign.

Texas generally has a pro-police culture – even in Austin, which is considered more liberal than the rest of the state. So asking businesses to take a stand to abolish the police is daring, Flores said.

The goal of “The APD Decruitment Initiative” is to discourage potential recruits from joining the Austin Police Department and persuade existing officers to quit. On the decruitment website, users can download posters. (Photo courtesy of Leon Alesi)

“There’s no problem with people honoring officers at businesses with discounts, or setting up a recruitment table at a high school,” she said, “but when you talk about decruitment, people are very scared of the repercussions of participation.”

Four businesses have been so bold. The Vortex promotes itself as a “fearless theatre exchange” that offers “unashamed art to create change.” Another is the Museum of Human Achievement, which provides “radically affordable” arts space to local artists, according to its website. Coco Coquette advertises wigs, makeup and sparkle, and Peace Cheese offers small-batch vegan cheeses.

Lavigne said several other businesses have told him and Flores that they support the message but decline to participate.

“There are lots of mental health professionals in the community,” Flores said. “There are lots of people who have a lot of training in supporting different neighborhoods and communities and groups. I think it’s about creating a network of care through those people, and training ourselves in de-escalation tactics and mediating practices.”

Flores and Lavigne also had an installation in April at the Fusebox “The ‘It’s NOT’ Fair” in Austin.

When Flores started thinking about the decruiting initiative, she remembered Austin police’s recruiting banner by the interstate. Directly across the freeway was a real estate sign that featured a Pablo Picasso quote: “Everything you can imagine is real.”

“If you can imagine this starting as this kind of little vision, our hope and our genuine desire is to keep growing that out,” Lavigne said, “and to keep making it more real.”

James Doyle Brown Jr. is an Arnold Ventures fellow.

Come back on Oct. 3, when we start publishing the main News21 “In Pursuit” project.

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James Brown
James Doyle Brown Jr. JEymz dOYl brOWn jOOnIUR (he/him/his)
Arnold Ventures Fellow

James Doyle Brown Jr. is an investigative journalism master’s student at Arizona State University. Brown, who has an undergraduate degree in communications from Northern Arizona University, is a certified project manager with previous professional experience in music, health care and legal administration. He is a columnist and digital reporter on the politics desk for The State Press at ASU.

Kyra O'Connor
Kyra O’Connor kir-uh oh-koner (she/her/hers)

Kyra O’Connor is a senior at Elon University, where she studies journalism and creative writing. The Ohio native is executive director of the student-run Elon News Network and has worked as an editorial intern for Raleigh Magazine in North Carolina and a freelance contributor for Ms. Magazine.