Austin group: End meet-and-con­fer talks with po­lice union,

City po­lice union not heed­ing ac­count­abil­ity in­put, ad­vo­cates claim.

Austin American-Statesman - - FRONT PAGE - By Mark Wil­son md­wil­son@states­man.com

A group of Austin com­mu­nity ad­vo­cacy or­ga­ni­za­tions came to­gether Tues­day to call on city lead­ers to end meet-and-con­fer ne­go­ti­a­tions with the Austin po­lice of­fi­cers’ union.

“We have met and not con­ferred,” said Lewis Con­way, a rep­re­sen­ta­tive of Grass­roots Lead­er­ship and Texas Ad­vo­cates for Jus­tice.

“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,” Con­way said.

Ad­vo­cates said they have par­tic­i­pated in the ne­go­ti­a­tions — which use in­put from stake­hold­ers from the city, po­lice as­so­ci­a­tion and com­mu­nity groups to draft a con­tract — to call for more po­lice ac­count­abil­ity.

“Em­bed­ded within that con­tract, that agree­ment, are many of the rules that gov­ern how of­fi­cers are dis­ci­plined, as well as how they are paid and their ben­e­fits,” lo­cal ac­tivist Chris Har­ris said. “So this rep­re­sents a vi­tal op­por­tu­nity for the city to come to­gether and to im­part our val­ues into this doc­u­ment, and at­tempt

to im­part more ac­count­abil­ity, trans­parency and over­sight over the Po­lice De­part­ment.”

How­ever, the group — which also in­cluded mem­bers of the Amer­i­can Civil Lib­er­ties Union, Austin Jus­tice Coali­tion, Black Sovereign Na­tion, Com­mu­ni­ties of Color United, Texas Civil Rights Project and Texas Crim­i­nal Jus­tice Coali­tion — char­ac­ter­ized the ne­go­ti­a­tions that go into build­ing the city’s con­tract with po­lice as one-sided and in­ef­fec­tive.

The or­ga­ni­za­tions Tues­day shared with the me­dia a set of rec­om­men­da­tions they’ve pre­sented dur­ing the lat­est ne­go­ti­a­tions, which in­clude: re­form­ing the de­part­ment’s 180-day rule, which lim­its the amount of time the po­lice chief has to dis­ci­pline of­fi­cers; elim­i­nat­ing au­to­mat­i­cally down­graded sus­pen­sions; giv­ing sub­poena power to cur­rent over­sight bod­ies; al­low­ing mis­con­duct to be con­sid­ered eq­ui­tably in pro­mo­tions; al­low­ing cit­i­zens to make com­plaints on­line or over the phone; al­low the po­lice mon­i­tor to ini­ti­ate in­ves­ti­ga­tions even with­out a ci­ti­zen com­plaint; stop per­ma­nently seal­ing records re­lated to po­lice mis­con­duct; and re­leas­ing records with­out re­mov­ing con­tent.

Many of the rec­om­men­da­tions, they said, were met with smirks from those ad­vo­cat­ing for po­lice.

Chas Moore of the Austin Jus­tice Coali­tion said the pur­pose of meet-and-con­fer was to es­tab­lish ac­count­abil­ity, and to dis­ci­pline of­fi­cers who en­gage in mis­con­duct.

“We’ve had plenty of crit­i­cal in­ci­dents, all the way from Sophia King, up to David Joseph, up to Mor­gan Rank­ins, and very lit­tle ac­count­abil­ity,” Moore said. “If we cre­ated (mee­tand-con­fer) for this thing and we’re not getting it, what are we pay­ing for?”

Austin Po­lice As­so­ci­a­tion Pres­i­dent Ken Casa­day said he be­lieves the city is happy with what they have worked out so far.

“The as­so­ci­a­tion’s pri­or­ity is for the safety and well-be­ing of all cit­i­zens of Austin and our of­fi­cers,” Casa­day said. “Our city has been her­alded as one of the safest in the coun­try, and that is be­cause of the men and women of the Austin Po­lice De­part­ment.

“I’m not able to speak to any specifics with the ne­go­ti­a­tions, but I’m con­fi­dent that our agree­ment will main­tain our stand­ing as one of the most trans­par­ent po­lice departments in the coun­try,” he said. Con­tact Mark Wil­son at 512-445-3636.

NICK WAG­NER / AMER­I­CAN-STATES­MAN

Mem­bers of the Austin Po­lice De­part­ment’s 136th class of cadets file in for their grad­u­a­tion cer­e­mony June 23 at the Austin In­de­pen­dent School Dis­trict Per­form­ing Arts Cen­ter.

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