Rejecting the pleas of police accountability activists, the Public
Safety Commission voted Monday night to recommend the approval of the
proposed new union contract between the city of Austin and the Austin
Both Police Chief Brian Manley and APA
President Ken Casaday stressed that if a contract is not approved,
police officers will go back to operating according to standard state
civil service rules. Hiring and promotions would be based solely on a
written test and some of the accountability measures that Austin has put
in place in recent years would go away.
Manley highlighted a
number of accountability provisions that the city got the union to agree
to, including allowing citizens to file anonymous complaints against
police officers and permitting a member of the Citizen Review Panel to
watch the live interview the department conducts with officers after a
shooting incident. The panel will also have new powers to question the
person who made the complaint and additional witnesses, although it will
not have subpoena power.
Finally, said Manley, the Citizen Review
Panel will be able to make public recommendations in response to
misconduct allegations to the chief, and the chief’s response to the
recommendation will be public as well.
“We’ll have accountability all the way up to the chief’s office,” he said.
who have campaigned for greater accountability decried the contract as a
surrender by the city. Complaints against officers would still have to
be made within 180 days unless they involve misconduct that could lead
to criminal charges, said Chris Harris of Grassroots Leadership.
the case of Breaion King, a woman who captured on dashcam being slammed
to the ground by an APD officer in June 2015, Harris said that while
the officer who made the contact might be eligible for investigation
after more than 180 days, his fellow officer who was caught on tape
saying that black people have “violent tendencies” would likely be in
Harris noted that during the contract negotiations,
Casaday had said the department was split “50-50” on whether the
treatment of King had been fair.
“If half of the police believe
that the incident with Breaion King was OK, how can we negotiate with
their duly chosen representatives?” he asked. “I contend they (should)
have no role in determining their own disciplinary regime, their own
Commission Chair Rebecca Webber said that
she supported approving the contract despite her persistent frustrations
with the processes for investigating police misconduct.
think that the right way to get a culture change at the police
department is to rip the rug out from under 1,600 officers who are out
doing their job right now,” she said.
Instead, Webber emphasized
the importance of having a department leader who truly cared about
holding police officers to high standards. In Chief Brian Manley, she
said, the community has that.
Commissioner Preston Tyree similarly
said that he has “serious concerns about use of force” and that it has
been applied “in ways that are discriminatory,” but similarly argued
that blocking the union contract would not be an effective way to bring
Commissioner Kim Rossmo said that he was
unconvinced that the commission had any business weighing in on a
collective bargaining contract, which he argued fell outside of its
mandate to advise City Council on budgetary and policy matters. He also
worried about the implications of a rejected contract for officer morale
and the relationship between the city and its employees.
“I lived in cities where labor unrest is very common and it’s not pleasant,” he said.
Carol Lee offered a compromise resolution recommending that Council
work to make improvements to the contract or else shorten its duration
from five years to two years.
Casaday responded that the current
proposal took 10 months of negotiations between the city and the union
and cost both a “tremendous amount of money.” If it isn’t approved, he
said, his members do not want to return to the bargaining table for at
least another year, meaning the police would soon begin to operate under
the civil service code.
Commissioner Daniela Nuñez was the only
full-throated opponent of the contract, describing the touted
accountability measures as “small, low-hanging fruit improvements.” She
urged for a shift in thinking on public safety to “more social-level
solutions that are systemic in nature,” such as poverty, mental illness
The commission had an opportunity, argued Nuñez, to
“send a signal to City Council” in favor of a different and “more
proactive” approach to public safety policy.
The commission voted 6-2 in favor of approval, with Nuñez and Lee in dissent.