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Thursday, November 29, 2018 by Jessi Devenyns
Office of the Police Monitor building a police oversight agency
For 16 years, the Office of the Police Monitor has been available for citizens and city staff to issue complaints against law enforcement. However, it appears not many Austinites take advantage of its services.
Police Monitor Farah Muscadin found that of the 250 formal complaints investigated each year, 50 came directly from the community while the other 200 were internally logged by staff. “So when I was out doing my community outreach I was like, this does not match,” she said at the Nov. 26 meeting of the Human Rights Commission.
In an effort to change the trend, Muscadin said that during the collective bargaining process that culminated with a new police contract on Nov. 15, they negotiated an oversight office.
According to Muscadin, having an oversight office as part of a police contract is rare. She explained that “95 percent of police oversight agencies were created by ordinance or charter.” By having the Office of Police Oversight – which is the new name of the office – Muscadin notes that they will now be able to have much more transparency in their functions as they seek to serve the citizenry.
“We are now able to make public a whole slew of information we were not able to make public,” she said. Some of the new information that will be available to the public includes disciplinary actions for officers, officer suspensions and the status of complaints. Previously, the Office of the Police Monitor was unable to provide updates on complaints filed, which caused a lack of trust in the overall process.
“We also want the community to trust the process. And there was a lack of trust in the process; primarily, we weren’t even allowed to discuss the complaint with the complainant,” she explained. Muscadin indicated that she intends to make it easier for people to file complaints by adding phone, online and in-person options. Eventually, the office will even set up office hours around the community “and have it cyclical so the community will know when we’ll be there,” she said. The office intends to hire two full-time employees for community liaison positions with the aim of engaging more frequently and effectively with residents.
Most importantly, Muscadin says that she wants the office to be accessible and useful to the public. “I don’t want to build this office in a vacuum, because it has to be a reflection of what the community has been demanding for years,” she said.
Video still via YouTube.
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Key Players & Topics In This Article
Austin Human Rights Commission: an advisory committee to members of the Austin City Council. It's purview includes "all matters involving racial, religious or ethnic discrimination."
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.