- By Philip Jankowski American-Statesman Staff
Austin’s police union and City Hall labor relations staff burned the midnight oil Thursday before coming to an employment agreement for Austin cops that includes a pay increase and some union concessions on police investigations.
The proposed agreement would extend the time limit on when Austin police can begin conducting internal affairs investigations, something local activists had called for in the wake of the Breaion King incident.
Despite widespread criticism and then-Police Chief Art Acevedo’s acknowledgement that the officer likely used excessive force in slamming King to the ground during a June 2015 traffic stop, the department was unable to punish officer Bryan Richter because Acevedo was not made aware of the incident until a year after it happened.
Under the proposed five-year agreement, police would still have to finish their investigation of potential misconduct within 180 days, but the timer would start once the police command staff learn of an incident, not when the incident itself happened.
“Pending final review, the city of Austin and the Austin Police Association have reached a tentative agreement on a contract with the community that strengthens transparency and civilian oversight,” a statement from the police union said. “It includes fair raises for our officers, but adjusts the trend in cost of public safety. It also maintains our standing as the most culturally competent police department in the state, and arguably the nation.”
Details on the proposed pay raise were not available on Friday. The measure needs the City Council’s approval to take effect.
Chas Moore, a founder of the Austin Justice Coalition that has been following the negotiations for months, often staged sit-ins at the police monitor’s office, where they were conducted. Moore told the American-Statesman on Friday that he would urge the council to not approve the proposed contract.
“We are going to urge the City Council to not approve it until there is some real reform,” Moore said.
The current agreement expires Oct. 31. If no contract is approved by then, it could prompt some relatively drastic changes.
For instance, some officers could lose up to 1,700 hours of unused sick time — the equivalent of about 10 months’ salary — which would likely trigger dozens of retirements, according to the union. A citizen oversight panel also would lose much of its authority to access officers’ investigative files.
In the agreement, the union agreed to some concessions that give more power to the police monitor’s office and the Citizen Review Panel, which reviews all of Austin police’s critical incidents and some citizen complaints.
For instance, interim Police Monitor Deven Desai will now be able to initiate investigations into officers without receiving a complaint. Desai would also be allowed take nonsworn complaints.
All recommendations from the Citizen Review Panel would be made public, even though identifying information about the officers involved will be withheld in cases not involving any discipline. The police chief will be required to respond to any panel recommendations, which will also be made public. Under the expiring agreement, those documents are only made public when an officer is suspended.
But the monitor’s office and the panel did not get subpoena power, something activists have long requested.
“We didn’t get everything we wanted, but neither side gets everything they want in a negotiation,” Desai said.