A mockup of the decruitment rewards card the artists plan to give out to people who verify they quit their job in law enforcement. (Photos by Sam Lavigne)
Andie Flores was sitting in traffic about a year ago behind an Austin Police Department patrol car and noticed the bumper sticker promoting the department’s recruitment website.
Flores had been frustrated with local justice reformers’ inability to reduce the size of the Austin Police Department. A sympathetic City Council actually defunded the police – cutting $21 million from APD’s budget in 2020, a historic action that few other cities have accomplished. But just months later, the Texas Legislature made it illegal for cities to reduce police spending, and all the cuts and “reimagined” public safety strategies were reversed, and APD’s budget is now larger than ever. She knew grassroots organizers who were working toward police abolition, but she wondered what else could be done.
So, sitting there behind that APD car, a thought occurred to the local performance artist and political organizer: “Wouldn’t it be funny if that said ‘decruiting’ rather than recruiting? It’s only one letter away.” After finding that the www.apddecruiting.org domain was available, she contacted a former professor of hers at UT-Austin, Sam Lavigne, himself an artist who shares similar politics, to collaborate on the new Decruitment campaign.
“APD Decruitment is a public service campaign that aims to prevent potential recruits from joining the Austin Police Department and to convince existing police officers to quit their jobs,” the project’s website reads, plainly enough. Flores said her motivation was borne out of frustration with political art, which can make an extreme statement but often fails to produce concrete change in the real world. “The project obviously has performative elements to it,” Lavigne told the Chronicle, “but we are genuinely attempting to produce something real.”
“It’s two artists working on a creative approach to abolition,” Flores added. “It’s a creative project, but also a legitimate exploration of what it would look like to help people transition out of careers in law enforcement.”
The two artists/activists recognized the anti-police backlash in 2020 after the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis and Mike Ramos here in Austin presented an opportunity to reach people in law enforcement, or on the fence about joining, and persuade them to make a change. “The problems [presented by] police and mass incarceration are huge and systemic,” Flores told us. “But we’re interested in what it might look like, on a more personal level, for individuals to actually do the work of quitting jobs in law enforcement. And to imagine and attempt to make real some kind of support network, if you were a police officer and you quit your job.”
That can include steering them toward meaningful conversations on the impact police have on our society. Both Flores and Lavigne recognize that American culture valorizes law enforcement, and once someone is inducted into its ranks, it becomes hard for them to hear arguments that the world will be better off with fewer police.
The pair are also recruiting local businesses for an incentive program, so those who quit the cop shop can get discounts and perks like free tickets to a show at The Vortex Theater, or 10% off purchases made at Peace Cheese, a vegan cheese outfit that operates out of Counter Culture. Flores said she and Lavigne have contacted about 30 businesses to join the program and recruited four to participate; many find it hard to comprehend. Discounts for police are common, but discounts for ex-police? Not so much.
One of the more daring aspects of the tongue-in-cheek-but-sincere project is a decruitment video encouraging APD officers to quit the department. It features some surprising cameos. “It’s often true that people do a job for a period of time and complete everything they can do with it, and in that sense, it becomes a dead end,” Rudy Giuliani says at one point in the video, staring directly into the camera in a poorly-lit office. “If you have this great love of giving back, there are many, many things you could do … to feel tremendous self-fulfillment.”
“God bless you, trooper,” the disgraced former mayor of New York City says. “I know you’re going to make the right decision.”
Another disgraced wingnut, former Phoenix sheriff Joe Arpaio, also offers encouragement to this imaginary cop. “Hey trooper, I hear you may have a dead end job. Maybe you should quit. … You don’t like the job, you’re not good at it, but you have other talents. You can quit that job and start a new life, maybe make the world a better place.”
Huh? How did these law-and-order guys end up in this video? Well, Cameo, of course – the video platform that allows people to pay celebrities to record videos of themselves saying anything the buyer wants. Sometimes, this produces hilarious results (Dean Norris, aka Hank Schrader from Breaking Bad, calling Walter White “a sussy baka” comes to mind). But mostly Cameo is filled with has-beens performing embarrassing stunts to cash in on their fading celebrity.
Which explains Giuliani and Arpaio’s participation (as well as another MAGA sheriff, David Clarke, and someone named “Officer Nae Nae”) – a group of grifters duped into lending their names and voices to a project that’s antithetical to their politics. “When we sent the request for Giuliani’s video, I was like, ‘We spent a couple hundred dollars on this, so if it comes back as nothing I’m gonna be really upset,’” Flores recalled. “But then we got the video back and I was delighted.”
Lavigne says the cameos also speak to the larger ambition of the project. The recruitment effort “is like a fiction that we want to become a reality.” We don’t live in a world where people like Giuliani and Arpaio would actively encourage cops to quit their jobs – “but that’s the world that we want to live in,” Lavigne explained.
Flores and Lavigne have not yet convinced any APD officers to quit the force – but they are early on in the campaign (they just launched their website Monday, June 27) and they are exploring ways to expand it as well. “Sam and I are real stubborn,” Flores said, “so we’ll carry this on as long as it needs to go.”
Got something to say? The Chronicle welcomes opinion pieces on any topic from the community. Submit yours now at austinchronicle.com/opinion.