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Coalition calls for end to ‘meet and confer’

Wednesday, August 9, 2017 by Elizabeth Pagano

A coalition of community groups called for the end of “meet and confer” at a press conference held outside the building where police contract negotiations continued Tuesday. The advocacy groups, which include the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas, Austin Justice Coalition, Black Sovereign Nation, Communities of Color United, Counter Balance ATX, Grassroots Leadership, Texas Civil Rights Project and Texas Criminal Justice Coalition, called on City Council members to “commit to significant improvements to police accountability, transparency and oversight” and expressed a sense of unease about the process thus far. Coalition members also presented a list of eight reforms that they say are reasonable “must haves.”

Foremost among the recommendations was a request to remove the “180 day rule” that limits the ability of the police chief to discipline officers, noting that it prevents discipline in cases where facts do not come to light until long after the incident has taken place. The group also asked to revise polices on: reducing officer suspensions to written reprimands, including histories of misconduct when promoting officers; allowing online and phone complaints by civilians against officers; expanding the powers of the Police Monitor Citizen Review Panel; and allowing the office of the police monitor to initiate its own investigations. In terms of transparency, they asked that the Austin Police Department stop the practice of permanently sealing records of police misconduct and that reports and recommendations be released to the public. Chris Harris, who is a local data analyst and activist, stressed the opportunity to influence the rules that govern how officers are disciplined and paid during the contract negotiations between the city and the Austin Police Association only comes every five years or so. “This represents a vital opportunity for the city to come together and to impart our values into our document,” he said. Grassroots Leadership’s Lewis Conway told the press where things stood from his perspective: “We have met and not conferred. We have discussed and not agreed. We agree that not only have they been able to operate with impunity under this agreement, but we also agree that we are creating a condition (in which) civilian oversight doesn’t even matter anymore.”

A spokesperson for the city of Austin declined to comment on the negotiations, which are ongoing, but told the Austin Monitor that they were encouraged by the progress they were making.

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