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Activists weigh in on police contract as city begins negotiations

Monday, April 24, 2017 by Audrey McGlinchy, KUT

As the city of Austin moves forward with the renegotiation of its public safety contracts, local activists are asking for several changes to the city’s contract with the local police union. The contract, which is negotiated every couple of years, dictates pay, discipline and the legal rights of officers.

This is the first labor negotiation for a district-representative Council.

According to Ken Casaday, president of the Austin Police Association, negotiations began nearly a month ago. He said it’s a process that, in the past, has taken anywhere from four months to over a year to complete. But he doesn’t expect any big changes this time around.

“We’ve done this so many times in the past,” said Casaday. “We have a very mature contract, so I don’t see a lot of big changes coming.”

But people who testified in front of Council members Thursday are holding out hope for significant revisions.

On Thursday, activist Chris Harris argued for striking the right that APD officers have to view evidence before talking to an investigator in an administrative or criminal case.

“We give them two full days to prepare to give a statement after they are presented with the complaint and all of the allegations,” said Harris.

Others asked for a simpler complaint process. Rebecca Webber, who chairs the city’s Public Safety Commission and is a member of the Citizen Review Panel, asked that more of the panel’s conversations with the police chief be made public.

“The CRP operates, as most of you know, almost entirely behind closed doors,” said Webber. According to the city’s current contract with the police union, if the citizen panel recommends discipline of an officer following a shooting, that recommendation is made public only once the police chief has decided whether or not to discipline the officer.

Council Member Greg Casar said he was struck by the limits on public information raised by Webber and other members of the city’s Citizen Review Panel.

“At this point, I can’t in good faith support the next contract unless we have significant improvements in transparency and accountability,” said Casar.

Council Member Jimmy Flannigan agreed.

“I think that transparency is key,” said Flannigan. “It’s something that we do in every other part of our city government.”

The negotiations are moving forward despite some hesitation in the fall. Several months ago, City Council members expressed the desire to delay the negotiations until a new, permanent city manager could be hired. (The Austin Police Department is also under interim leadership after Chief Art Acevedo left to head up officers in Houston.)

“We raised the possibility that it would be better if the new city manager, when that city manager came in, was able to negotiate that person’s own long-term contracts with the three public safety associations,” Mayor Steve Adler told KUT back in November.

This story was produced as part of the Austin Monitor’s reporting partnership with KUT. Photo by Jorge Sanhueza-Lyon/KUT News.

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