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Citizen Review Panel audit brings up questions of document security

Tuesday, August 14, 2018 by Jessi Devenyns

After 17 years of evaluation of the Austin Police Department by the Citizen Review Panel, not much happened. That is the conclusion that the Office of the City Auditor presented at the Aug. 6 meeting of the Public Safety Commission: After reviewing 54 of the panel’s recommendations as well as 10 written responses from APD, the auditor’s office gathered that “citizen oversight did not create substantive change with the APD.”

But something the panel did create, at least for Public Safety commissioners, was a question about document security.

The citizens who sat on the review panel were never given city email addresses, and so they operated on personal and work email accounts. As a result, information that is normally protected by state law was outside city control.

“How are you planning on cleaning that up?” Commissioner Sam Holt asked the staff from the auditor’s office.

While she did not have a concrete answer for how to retrieve and secure all the sensitive memos, City Auditor Corrie Stokes explained that that was the responsibility of the police monitor and city manager.

Another result of the documents being sent and stored in non-city email accounts is a lack of centralization for the documents. According to Patrick Johnson, assistant city auditor, “no city department had a complete library of all the CRP memos.”

“I’m very concerned about that, when you have documents that are just missing,” noted Commissioner Ed Scruggs. “Are there some of these things that are gone now, and is there some risk there?”

The auditors explained that they did not delve into the risk of the files being outside city servers in their report as it was beyond the scope of the audit. “I’m not exactly sure what the consequences are for not having that complete inventory,” said Stokes. She agreed that it was a big question that did need an answer.

Despite uncertainties linked to the location of some of the memos sent by the CRP, Assistant Police Chief Troy Gay assured the commission that APD did receive communications from members of the panel and took them to heart. “We’re very, very familiar with the recommendations that have been made (by the panel), and we are trying to incorporate those into our recommendations,” he said.

Nevertheless, based on the presented findings, and the new knowledge that certain documents were being haphazardly collected and stored, Commissioner Daniela Nuñez noted that “there’s ample opportunity to improve police oversight in Austin.”

The auditor’s office agreed with the commissioner. Should this review panel ever be reinstated, some of the recommended improvements from the city auditor’s office include “establishing clear responsibilities to ensure that records are maintained” and “protecting city information by providing appropriate resources and training to members of a city-designated citizen oversight body.”

Photo by Austin Community College made available through a Creative Commons license.

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