Wednesday, June 27, 2018 by Syeda Hasan

Police and community groups join to explore how to improve oversight of APD

Austin’s system of police oversight may be more effective than others at promoting long-term change, but there’s still skepticism about the agency, according to a new report.

The report from the Office of the Police Monitor notes that agencies like Austin’s have the power to track whether a police department makes changes based on public feedback. The way the system is structured, however, has led to criticism by both the community and police. For example, the fact that the agency is run by full-time paid staff raises concerns of bias.

The report recommends further analysis and comparison of Austin’s system to that of six other cities.

“The civilian boards operate very differently” from each other, Police Monitor Farah Muscadin said when presenting the findings to City Council on Tuesday. “Some are just advisory in nature, that deal with just policy. Some have the ability to hire or fire the police chief. For example, that is the case in San Francisco.”

The findings show that while many other oversight agencies conduct independent investigations and allow people to file anonymous complaints, Austin’s Office of the Police Monitor does not. The report recommends that Austin look into comparable systems of police oversight in San Jose, San Francisco, Denver, Seattle, New Orleans and Minneapolis.

Muscadin said discussions with other jurisdictions will be open to the public.

“We’re going to be doing video conferencing with the various cities,” she said. “They’re all going to be held in City Hall. This proposed timeline includes coming back to you in October with those recommendations.”

A newly created working group will analyze potential policy changes before taking public input on how the system can be improved. The group plans to begin doing community outreach around the effort in September before presenting recommendations to City Council by October.

Some Council members, including Ellen Troxclair, said they’d like findings from the working group earlier to avoid prolonged negotiations with the police union over its labor contract. City Council rejected a new five-year contract in December.

“I’m hopeful that we will have a contract as soon as possible,” Troxclair said, “and I want to do what I can (on) the Council side to facilitate those successful negotiations.”

Rey Arellano, Austin’s assistant city manager, said the police union is one of the stakeholder groups identified to take part in these discussions, and the working group aims to make sure all these processes work together.

“We’re very mindful of the implications of everything that’s swirling around in terms of the negotiation and identifying what’s the best fit for us in terms of police oversight,” he said.

This story was produced as part of the Austin Monitor’s reporting partnership with KUT. Photo by Gabriel Cristóver Pérez/KUT.

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Key Players & Topics In This Article

Austin City Council: The Austin City Council is the body with legislative purview over the City of Austin. It offers policy direction, while the office of the City Manager implements administrative actions based on those policies. Until 2012, the body contained seven members, including the city's Mayor, all elected at-large. In 2012, City of Austin residents voted to change that system and now 10 members of the Council are elected based on geographic districts. The Mayor continues to be elected at-large.

Austin Police Department: the law enforcement entity for the City of Austin.

City of Austin Office of the Police Monitor: An oversight group that, among other duties, reviews citizen complaints filed against the Austin Police Department and monitors APD internal affairs investigations.

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