FROM OVERNIGHT: Activists call for greater police accountability ahead of union talks

Several Austin City Council members said they’d like to see a fundamental shift in how the city negotiates and budgets police and fire protection, after scores of activists called for greater police transparency and accountability.

Austin is amid labor union negotiations for a new contract with public safety employees. Contracts are typically negotiated every three years, and the new one must be in place by the time the next fiscal year begins Oct. 1. The city budget must also be set by that time.

In sometimes emotional testimony before the council Thursday, dozens of civil rights activists and other community members argued the Austin Police Department should be more accountable to its Citizen Review Panel and police monitor. The panel is tasked with holding police accountable, but critics say its secrecy requirements and nonbinding recommendations make it essentially useless.

PREVIOUS: Citizen Review Panel, once tasked with transparency, mired in secrecy

The activists pointed to high-profile local police controversies, including the shooting of unarmed, naked teenager David Joseph, the violent arrest of teacher Breaion King and others to argue that police force is a problem in Austin.

Speakers said it should be easier to file complaints against police, and to find out their outcomes. Some questioned why officers don’t have to give statements immediately after officer-involved shootings. Some called for freezing public safety budgets and putting more money into social services.

Several speakers decried that residents with felony convictions cannot serve on the citizen panel.

“The people that are dying look like me, but we’re not allowed to be represented,” said Lewis Conway, who served eight years in prison for manslaughter and is now a criminal justice organizer for Grassroots Leadership.

While the comments were ongoing, news broke that former Austin policeman Charles Kleinert could not be charged with manslaughter for the 2013 shooting death of Larry Jackson because Kleinert was serving on a federal task force at the time — a potentially precedent setting determination of immunity.

Numerous speakers demanded that new APD contract provisions explicitly bar police officers from working with Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and one pointed to the Kleinert case to say local police shouldn’t work with federal authorities at all.

Austin police union President Ken Casaday offered a rebuttal to the criticism, calling it based on “rumors and innuendo.”

“I’ve been a police officer here 20 years now and I have never asked someone what country they’re from,” he said. “I’ve never worked with ICE… We don’t work with them.”

He defended the policy of giving officers time to process incidents before giving statements about them, noting that officers, unlike citizens, are forced to give statements about incidents that involve them. He called the existing Citizen Review Panel provisions “a big give” by the union.

“We have made many exceptions in our contract to allow civilian oversight,” he said.

The public testimony came after a presentation to council members outlining the negotiation process and the potential consequences of an impasse, if no contract agreement is reached.

Council members noted that this is the first labor negotiation for the 10-1 council, after the city began electing representatives based on geographic districts in 2014. Council members Greg Casar and Jimmy Flannigan said they will not support the next contract unless there are significant changes to transparency and accountability provisions.

“A lot more should be on the table than may have been on the table in the past,” Flannigan said. “I, for one, am not afraid of an impasse.”

Mayor Steve Adler suggested that Austin set a fixed percentage of the budget for public safety before working out financial details. Public safety has made up nearly 70 percent of the city’s annual general fund budget in recent years. The council should also take a longer-term look at public safety needs and components, he said.

“We should seriously think about doing this differently and really telegraphing where we’re coming from,” he said.

Reader Comments ...

Next Up in Politics

Russia investigation: Special counsel Mueller subpoenas Trump Organization
Russia investigation: Special counsel Mueller subpoenas Trump Organization

  Special counsel Robert Mueller has subpoenaed the Trump Organization for documents as part of his investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election and its possible ties to President Donald Trump and his associates, according to multiple reports. The subpoena is the first directly connected to one of Trump’s businesses...
Secretary of state, CIA director nominees face probable backlash in Senate
Secretary of state, CIA director nominees face probable backlash in Senate

The confirmation of President Donald Trump's picks for secretary of state and CIA director is likely to be hampered but not stymied by a mostly partisan backlash to their records in the administration and the decision that led to their nominations - the termination of Rex Tillerson for being one of the few Cabinet members, Democrats argued Tuesday...
Facebook, Twitter, Google CEOs face calls to testify to Congress
Facebook, Twitter, Google CEOs face calls to testify to Congress

Social media giants that have acknowledged Russians exploited their platforms ahead of the 2016 election face renewed bipartisan demands to explain to Congress what they're doing to counter abuse of their networks ahead of this year's congressional midterms.  Democratic Sen. Mark Warner of Virginia, the vice chairman of the Intelligence Committee...
We looked at almost 100 leaders who tried Xi Jinping-style power grabs. Here’s how they turned out.
We looked at almost 100 leaders who tried Xi Jinping-style power grabs. Here’s how they turned out.

Xi Jinping plays the long game.  The 64-year-old Chinese president is only half finished with what should have been a 10-year term, but he's already tossed term limits aside, and with them the rules and norms that have governed China's leadership since 1982.  The National People's Congress made it official last weekend, passing a set of constitutional...
No, Conor Lamb didn’t run as ‘Republican-lite’
No, Conor Lamb didn’t run as ‘Republican-lite’

On Wednesday morning, I returned from Pennsylvania to an entirely different universe: the sidewalk outside the House GOP's weekly meeting. One by one, Republicans in both safe seats and swing seats explained that the apparent defeat of their candidate in the 18th Congressional District — an area Donald Trump had carried by 20 points in 2016 &mdash...
More Stories