- By Mark Wilson American-Statesman Staff
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.”
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 on 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 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 (meet-and-confer) for this thing and we’re not getting it, what are we paying for?”
Austin Police Association President Ken Casaday said he couldn’t speak to any specifics related to the negations, but he believes that 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. 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.