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Chief outlines steps to detect policing 'double standard'

Wednesday, December 10, 2003 by

Some answers may come in early 2004

The Austin Police Department plans to start evaluating whether the department has applied a double standard—as charged by a recent grand jury report—when policing in Central East Austin as compared to other parts of the city. In putting together that report, the department will be evaluating a number of new variables, including crime rates, emergency calls, number of calls dispatched, citizen complaints and citizen surveys. The measures were outlined in a memo from Police Chief Stan Knee in response to questions from Council Member Danny Thomas.

In addition, Knee said the department would be doing historical research comparing the Central East Area Command to the rest of the city. He promised a report to the Council “in early 2004,” while noting that the state requires all police agencies to do an annual report on racial profiling.

Last month, Thomas asked whether there was a way to determine if there is a double standard in the policing of East Austin and the rest of the city. The former police officer also asked what type of data was available to evaluate concerns raised by a grand jury report. The grand jury became concerned after hearing about the death of Jessie Lee Owens at the hands of Officer Scott Glasgow, who was indicted in connection with the death.

The incident followed last year’s shooting death of Sophia King, a mentally disturbed woman who was threatening to kill another person. Although there was no wrongdoing found on the part of the officer who shot King, East Austin activists argued that the matter might have been resolved peaceably. “Our Grand Jury heard many cases where a different brand of law enforcement appears to occur in the minority neighborhoods of East Austin. We see what appears to us to be a double standard and we are disturbed by it.”

Thomas noted yesterday that Knee caused himself some problems in East Austin after Owens’ death. “What really angered the community . . . he had that meeting and he got up and said he knew there was no double standard as far as enforcing the law. What he should have said was that he doesn’t train his officers to have a double standard but he was willing to look into it.” Now it appears that Knee is trying to develop some new measures for looking at the question.

In her memo accompanying Knee’s response, Assistant City Manager Laura Huffman wrote, “For the past five years, APD has relied on racial profiling data and citizen complaints to monitor whether or not there is a double standard in policing. However, studying racial profiling is not an exact science and there are no national benchmarks to use as comparisons. Therefore, APD will be analyzing racial profiling data, citizen complaints and certain performance measures to determine whether or not there is a double standard in policing in Austin.”

Thomas said he had also asked Knee for a report on how the department keeps track of how many citizen complaints are filed on each officer. Prior to the death of Owens, Thomas said the information was not even computerized.

APD’s report in March showed that although Austin police stop Anglos, Hispanics and African-Americans for traffic violations in numbers consistent with their percentages of the population, Hispanics and African-Americans are two to three times as likely to be subjected to searches as Anglos. The department will be releasing the same type of data by March 1, 2004 on traffic stops for the current year.

Future of development rules in jeopardy

City-county negotiations with real estate lobby hit snag

The city and county’s eleventh-hour negotiations with real estate stakeholders have ended in a stalemate, leaving the final approval of a joint city-county subdivision code in question.

If the city and county can’t sign off on the code before Jan. 1, the state will force them into binding arbitration. And while the two sides know they can move forward without the approval of homebuilders, they suspect it will only lead to future legislative penalties. Commissioner Gerald Daugherty said lawmakers would only find “a bigger whip” if the two sides could not come up with a code everyone could agree to.

With the window closing on final approval of the code, planning officials made some final concessions to the real estate community to try to bring closure. The City Council is expected to take up third, and final, reading of the joint code at its meeting on Thursday.

Those gaps, however, appeared to be insurmountable when Harry Savio of the Greater Austin Homebuilders Association told the Commissioners Court that the joint code failed to meet the intent of House Bill 1204, passed in the last session. The Single Office, as proposed by the city and county, does not provide a single voice on subdivision issues.

“The question is, ‘Does this meet the intent of the state law?’ And, no, it doesn’t,” Savio told the court during his remarks. “There can be a cover put on it, and it can be called a Single Office, but it’s still two reviews and two fees and two offices.”

Joe Gieselman, executive director for Transportation and Natural Resources, outlined the final concessions to the stakeholders. Those concessions included giving Gieselman and Assistant City Manager Lisa Gordon final authority to reconcile subdivision disputes, rather than waiting for a decision from the Council and commissioners.

Stakeholders had complained that they could go through the approval process, all the way to both jurisdictions, without having a clear idea whether or not disputes were being resolved. Gieselman said it would present the stakeholders with what they wanted while still giving the city and county the chance to retain their own authority.

Also, a section was added to the code to designate a staff person to be a liaison with the developer, to provide a “single point of contact” on a subdivision plat, Gieselman said. That one person would be responsible for resolving any conflicts.

Gordon, who was on hand with Assistant City Attorney David Lloyd, said the city already had started to clear up disagreements in a more timely manner through internal reports. The reports, part of the streamlined development process, were intended to make sure that problems are addressed more proactively.

A third area that was pointed out, and would be addressed by the interlocal agreement, would be the city’s authority to review utility work. A footnote in the code under variances appeared to give away the city’s authority to review water and wastewater plans, Gordon said. That was a serious concern for the city’s fire marshal and water utility.

If those plans don’t meet the city’s water flow standards for fire protection, homeowners might be required to spend between $2,000 and $10,000 to retrofit each lot.

Stakeholders who addressed the court spoke of confusion, and some dismay, with the final code. Rick Reed was not necessarily convinced that the single point of contact would be willing to address all concerns. And he wanted the chance to review the city’s contention that it needed the right to review the utility plans for subdivisions.

Reed noted that the two sides had failed to address duplicative reviews, which was to be addressed by Oct. 1 under the original interlocal agreement between the city and county.

Commissioners agreed to delay a vote on the code until next Tuesday, giving Gieselman and Gordon the chance to meet and negotiate further with stakeholders.

Commissioners also had the independent audit of fees on the agenda. Gieselman informed the court that his office and Auditor Susan Spataro’s office could find another $25,000 apiece to add to the $100,000 already offered by the county. The city had offered no money, but only in-kind contributions toward completion of the audit, which is intended to document the duplication of fees and services between the two offices.

Gieselman confirmed that while stakeholders had offered to provide $25,000 toward the audit, the county considered it to have “too many strings attached.”

Daugherty was angry at the suggestion that the county should pick up the city’s slack, especially given that the city had recently managed to find $45,000 for a water quality study. Daugherty told his colleagues it was clear the city did not want to touch its fee structure, as a way to preserve a revenue source for the city.

Council Member Daryl Slusher told In Fact Daily that the major reason the city had objected to providing funds was that no one could tell how much the study would ultimately cost. He said he thought the city’s offer to provide in-kind services was all the city could offer in view of questions about the price tag.

Gordon told In Fact Daily, “A large part of the scope of work is to identify which areas are duplicated. We have that staff and we have that information. So, from the city’s perspective we should not pay for work that has already been done in a budget year when we are re-evaluating how we spend every dollar.”

While city staff has agreed to provide data for the audit—such as mapping out the processes of the office—County Auditor Susan Spataro said such an effort would only cloud the independence of the audit. It was Spataro’s recommendation that all work be done by the Deloitte & Touche, so that stakeholders would consider it independent.

At least one person directly involved in the negotiations said the real issue was the crafting of the language in the law. The jurisdictions and the stakeholders had clearly different views on what was required under the law because of the vague language. That vague language may have won the votes, but it provided little clarity to local officials.

Commissioners will take up the joint code issue again next week, as well as a more specific scope of work on the independent audit. Gordon said she is fairly confident the Council will approve the code on third reading this week. “I think it’s in the city’s best interest to do everything we can to have an agreement by January 1 and we’re doing everything we can to have that done,” she said.

City PIO to join Seton

City Public Information Officer Michele Middlebrook-Gonzalez has accepted a job as Director of Media & Community Relations for the Seton Healthcare Network. After 10 years with the City of Austin—including nine as PIO—Gonzalez will join Seton on January 5.

Gonzalez oversees the city’s award-winning web site, Austin City Connection, Channel 6, the eight people who answer the phone on the main city number, a graphic artist and two public information providers. Her department experienced staff reductions, as did all others in the city.

She said there were only three people in the office when she took over as PIO in 1994. “We had a chance to just start from scratch,” and nurture the department. “The whole communications division came under one umbrella. It was a great experience. Media relations has always been my forte—what I had the most experience with—but to have that opportunity was just very exciting to me.”

Public Information Manager David Matustik will become Acting PIO. City Manager Toby Futrell said, “Michele has proven a strong leader for this organization and a valuable member of my executive team. Although she will certainly be missed, I am pleased that she has this great opportunity and wish her all the very best.”

Gonzalez will report to Mark Hazelwood, vice president of marketing and public affairs. She will be joining former City Manager Jesus Garza, who oversees Brackenridge Hospital, as well as other facilities for Seton. Prior to joining the city, Gonzalez was a reporter and assistant news manager with KVUE-TV.

©2003 In Fact News, Inc. All rights reserved

SBCA opposes deal with Lowe’s . . . The board of directors of the Save Barton Creek Association has voted to ask the City Council to reject the Lowe’s settlement agreement. Unlike the SOS Alliance, SBCA supported the Council’s decision on the Stratus deal, among others. The vote was unanimous. One of the board’s members is Jack Goodman, a member of the Barton Springs Edwards Aquifer Conservation District board and husband of Mayor Pro Tem Jackie Goodman. The Mayor Pro Tem is described as still undecided on how she will vote on third reading this week . . . Vigil for justice . . . Democrat Alfred Stanley has invited friends and anyone else who wishes to join him to walk from the Capitol to 9th and San Jacinto facing the Homer Thornberry Judicial Building, where the group will light candles and sing. He writes, “To put it simply, this is about something much more than politics, it’s about justice. I hope that the spirit of justice will mark the eve of this trial, and that by our actions those who are visiting Austin, including the three wise judges, will see that this is a community that believes in justice. The group will gather at 5pm and begin walking at 5:30pm. The candle-lighting and singing are scheduled to begin at 6pm . . . On the other side of town . . . The Save Our Springs Alliance is having a party at Mercury Hall, 615 Cardinal Lane off South 1st Street. Comedian Kerry Awn will provide the entertainment along with Bill Oliver, Bob Livingston, Leeann Atherton and others. The party is from 6-10pm and a silent auction will be open from 6pm until 9:30pm . . . Hohengarten to kick off campaign tonight . . . Supporters and friends of attorney Nancy Hohengarten will gather at the Allan House, 1104 San Antonio, from 5:30 to 7:30pm tonight to start her campaign for judge of County Court at Law. Hohengarten, a former prosecutor, is hoping to take the bench being vacated by Judge Gisela Triana. Triana is running for judge of the 200th District Court, the seat of retiring Judge Paul Davis. Hohengarten will face a number of opponents in the Democratic primary, including Leonard Saenz.

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