The city of Austin has apologized for a tweet advising visitors attending South By Southwest to contact the police monitor’s office if they have a problem with officers after it angered law enforcement officials and drew criticism online.
“Welcome #SXSWers! We know you’re loving Austin but if you experience a problem with police, let us know. 512-974-9090 austinpolicemonitor.com,” the city tweeted Monday night. (The actual link to the website is austintexas.gov/department/police-monitor.)
“Wow!” one officer replied on the social media site. “That’s just wrong.”
“Also tell visitors to SXSW that ATX is 2nd safest large city thanks to the hard work of APD,” another said.
Then Austin Police Chief Art Acevedo weighed in: “@austintexasgov If you want to commend a member of @Austin_Police please drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org. Enjoy ATX!”
Other Twitter users accused the city of throwing the department under the bus. Meanwhile, about 30 people had retweeted the information Tuesday, and about 10 people had clicked “favorite.”
On Tuesday, though, the city tweeted an apology.
“@ArtAcevedo @Austin_Police does an extraordinary job under extraordinary conditions @sxsw,” the city wrote. “Apologies if (office of the police monitor) message gave wrong impression.”
In a statement, the city said that the information in the original tweet was accurate but that the tone was inappropriate, “and not released in good judgment.”
“The tweet can be interpreted that there are problems with the Austin Police Department and its relationship with the public during SXSW,” the city said in a statement. “That is not our intent. APD is one of the best in the nation and serves the community daily – including visitors to SXSW and other major events – with professionalism and concern.”
Margo Frasier, the city’s police monitor, said there were no incidents or problems that prompted the tweet.
“It was part of our effort to let visitors know where to go IF there was a concern,” she said in an email. “It was never intended to give the impression that there would be a problem.”
Sgt. Wayne Vincent, president of the Austin Police Association, called the tweet “a slap in the face to any cop that works in the city.”
In a letter sent to City Manager Marc Ott, Vincent said officers were “completely demoralized” by the tweet.
“I have never seen such a divisive message used by city government officials in what we see as a calculated public-relations assault on the men and women you profess to respect,” he said in the letter.
Vincent said he and the union “flatly reject any assertion that this was merely an attempt to educate the public on how to file a complaint against a police officer.” He also aired in the letter numerous complaints about the work conditions for officers during SXSW that he said the association has tried to resolve behind the scenes. Among several other issues cited, Vincent said patrol officers on motorcycles are forced to work 10 or 12 days straight while switching from night to day shifts.
“For your office to suggest that visitors will have problems with the police is incompetence at best and a calculated shot in a political war with your police at worst,” he said.
A city spokesman said Ott was aware of the letter but did not have a comment.