Tuesday, May 5, 2020 by Jessi Devenyns

Public Safety Commission requests updates on APD’s response to Tatum investigation

At its May 4 meeting, the Public Safety Commission discussed the findings of a report by outside investigator Lisa Tatum that examined accusations of racism and homophobia leveled against APD’s top brass in recent months.

While the report was unable to corroborate all of the claims, the commission determined it was necessary to receive periodic updates from Police Chief Brian Manley regarding the progress on addressing the “cultural issues” identified in the report, which offered nearly five pages of recommendations and observations made during the course of the investigation.

In an effort to keep the police department accountable for its course correction, the commission asked APD to return to its July meeting to give updates on policy changes and progress toward cultural change.

“Actions speak louder than words,” Chair Meghan Hollis said. “If you talk a lot and you don’t actually display those behaviors … people start taking your talk with a grain of salt.”

Chief Manley told the commission he is actively working to correct several of the issues outlined in the 46-page report. He said APD has already implemented Equal Employment Opportunity policies in its internal HR department to address discrimination, harassment, retaliation and sexual harassment. In the report, the suitability of having law enforcement officers handle employment and labor concerns without any employment or labor law training was called into question.

Additionally, Chief Manley said APD is continuing to work with the Office of Police Oversight to clarify the policy that is intended to ensure an incident is properly recorded with supporting evidence of the claim, according to the APD policy manual. Work on the policy will be completed by June 15.

To assure that evidence supporting incident claims is recorded and accessible for the future, APD is building a new electronic file system and loading in data.

“We need to do better to make sure the documents get there that are supposed to be there,” Manley said. The Tatum investigation raised concerns that the police department was unable to produce documents that employees remembered seeing or signing.

Manley said he has also identified an administrative supervisory position that he is looking to convert into an internal chief diversity officer. He said he intends to fill this position as well as hire a third-party consultant to help the police department address the need for cultural correction.

“Ms. Tatum found a culture that is fearful of retaliation with racism,” Chief Manley said. “What I don’t know is what specifically led to that.” He said the consultant will help address this particular complaint.

Commissioner Bill Kelly said that while APD can alter its policies, change will only be effective if it comes with a cultural shift. “I think the hardest thing to change is culture.”

The city is looking to support this change in departmental culture and has delayed the start of the next cadet academy by a month to allow for the completion of an audit of the materials used to train incoming officers in the police academy. Cadet training came into question last December when City Council voted to conduct a departmentwide investigation of APD and include the revision of training manuals, following testimony from former cadets that they experienced intimidation and discriminatory language during training classes.

Manley told the commission that addressing the culture within the department is a larger issue that he will begin to tackle with policy changes, a consultant and the implementation of a committee made up of front-line civilians and sworn supervisors.

“We will make the changes necessary to implement a culture of equity and fairness,” he said.

Photo by Michael Barera/CC BY-SA 4.0.

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Key Players & Topics In This Article

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

Public Safety Commission: The Public Safety Commission is a City Council advisory body charged with oversight of budgetary and policy matters concerning public safety These include matters related to the Austin Police Department, the Austin Fire Department, and the Austin/Travis County Emergency Medical Services Department."

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