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Community Police Review Commission convenes

Monday, November 2, 2020 by Tara Phipps

Austin’s new Community Police Review Commission kicked off its inaugural meeting the first week of October, setting guidelines for its activities and discussing how it can help city officials develop more transparent and effective public safety processes.

The commission, which will advise and evaluate the city’s Office of Police Oversight, is the latest version of the city’s long-standing forum for community members to provide input on police oversight issues.

Farah Muscadin, who directs the Office of Police Oversight, told the commissioners that the body will give community members who are disproportionately impacted by policing a seat at a very important table.

Amani Seay, an Austin resident with a background in marketing communications and advocacy work, was selected by a vote to chair the commission.

“We take issues brought to us by the community and find out what recommendations or changes can be made to Austin Police Department policies and practices,” Seay said. “Especially as it relates to use of force and critical incidents.”

The commissioners agreed their mission would be to listen to and promote the community’s voice when it comes to public safety.

“(Reimagining public safety) is a huge undertaking, but it’s also an exciting time to do this work and be a part of this process,” Muscadin said.

Austin has had some form of community oversight of its police force for over 25 years. Seay said the goal has always been to increase transparency and expand community involvement in policing.

“While our team may only serve for two years, community oversight will continue with newly appointed commissioners to continue the work that has been done for the last 25 years,” Seay added.

In January 2018, the interim city manager suspended the previous incarnation of the commission – then known as the Citizen Review Panel – after an investigation found the panelists had been largely untrained and that the commission’s activities did not lead to any substantial change to the Austin Police Department.

In November 2018, an agreement between the city and the Austin Police Association enabled the city manager to create a panel intended to review the police department that also addressed several of the problems that came up during the investigation. The city manager has since appointed 10 unpaid volunteers to work on the commission.

The commissioners will work to make policy recommendations for policing efforts, review APD patterns, assess police misconduct case by case, and evaluate the effectiveness of the Office of Police Oversight during their two-year term.

“We need to do the research and we need to consult with subject matter experts and really understand the full scope of what these changes mean and how to best implement public safety in a different way for the community,” Muscadin said.

The police department has over 700 pages of policy and employee conduct guidelines. But citizens shouldn’t have to be policy experts to have their voices heard, Seay noted, so the commission focuses on listening to the community and going through the guidelines to find areas to enhance.

Nothing is more frustrating than voicing a concern and having it go ignored, Seay said, adding, “When the community speaks and outlines opportunities for change, they should see improvement.”

This story was written by a journalism student at the University of Texas at Austin. The Austin Monitor is working in partnership with the UT School of Journalism to teach and publish stories produced by students in the City and County Government Reporting course.

The Austin Monitor’s work is made possible by donations from the community. Though our reporting covers donors from time to time, we are careful to keep business and editorial efforts separate while maintaining transparency. A complete list of donors is available here, and our code of ethics is explained here.

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