We all agree that our police need the resources to recruit, retain, and appropriately compensate officers. We all know that transparency and meaningful oversight are essential to public safety. We all want a four-year contract that achieves those goals.
What my cosponsors and I have proposed is simple: a (1) temporary, short-term extension of the current police contract, so that (2) we can table the four-year contract until (3) the voters can have their voices heard. Once the people decide, we can (4) finalize negotiation on the provisions the voters approve. Our proposal is essentially the same as the six-month extension we are currently in and similar to the one-year contract recently approved with EMS. We chose one year for the extension to provide enough time to hold the May election, understand the implications of the results, and adjust policy accordingly.
But this extension is about more than time; it is to protect the democratic process. Sometimes democracy is inconvenient, but we must always remember that the alternative - defying the will of Austin voters - is worse. That is why Mayor Watson proposed giving the City the flexibility to negotiate improved compensation and benefits for the temporary extension as proof to our officers that we are committed to supporting them while we await the May vote, not to replace the terms of a four-year contract. There is no choice between a temporary extension and a final contract; one is a bridge, and not an alternative, to the other.
Our resolution is no 11th hour surprise. For a year, many of us have met regularly with the City Manager, the City Attorney, the Labor Relations team, APA, and community members such as the Greater Austin Crime Commission and Equity Action. Council staff have directly observed public negotiations. In nearly every discussion, I raised concerns with the direction of negotiations and the need for a short-term extension, especially after we voted last fall to place the APOA on the ballot. Other members shared similar concerns in City Council meetings. Many of us hoped staff would adjust their negotiation strategy accordingly, but we began preparing this item over five months ago in case the City tried to ram through a contract before the people had their say.
My staff and I have been reviewing the four-year proposal, and there are indeed major differences with the APOA ballot proposition. To highlight just a few:
- The APOA permits officers to submit anonymous complaints. Officer complaints are more likely to be substantiated, address internal policies and practices, and appropriately take into consideration the realities of policing. The City’s proposed contract restricts officers from filing anonymous complaints. While the OPO will not determine the identity of the complainants, the proposal requires Internal Affairs to investigate the source to determine whether a complaint is “internal” and ensure an officer didn’t improperly file the complaint. Without anonymity, officers may fear retaliation and not report misconduct. Article 16, Sec. 2(a),(c),(e),(g).
- The APOA permits OPO to serve as a complainant for misconduct it witnesses or discovers through its access to non-public information. The proposed contract prohibits OPO from filing complaints. Article 16, Sec. 2(c).
- The APOA gives OPO the power to preliminarily review complaints and make recommendations. The City’s proposal requires complaints to be sent to IA first and prohibits OPO from classifying a complaint as “external” versus “internal.” Article 17, Sec. 4(a),(b),(c). This would also restrict OPO access to records and officers to conduct a review independent of IA, allowing IA to control the investigation and what OPO receives. Article 17, Sec. 4(b),(h).
- The APOA empowers the OPO to conduct its own investigations and gather evidence. The City’s proposal provides no clear authority to OPO and only states that OPO can be included in IA interviews of officers IF the Chief orders it. When the OPO had the power to preliminarily review complaints, many complaints they referred to IA received no follow-up. Article 17, Sec. 3.
- Under the APOA, the OPO and Civilian Panel can make nonbinding, public recommendations on discipline. The City’s proposal removes the OPO’s power to make recommendations for “critical incidents” and the OPO and Panel can only publicly release recommendations for non-critical incidents arising from external complaints that result in discipline. Article 16, Sec. 3(b)(5), Sec. 4(l). Allowing public recommendations gives the people the opportunity to know and evaluate the differences between the OPO, the Civilian Panel, and the Chief’s findings and views.
- Among the most alarming provisions in the City’s proposal is the Reverter Provision, “In the event any provision of Article 16 or Article 17, herein, or any Ordinance or Policy crafted by the City in conjunction herewith, is found to be invalid by a court order, judgment, or any other disposition from a court of competent jurisdiction, the City may revert back to Article 16 and Article 17, in their entireties as provided within the 2018 to 2022 Meet and Confer Agreement by giving notice to the Association. In which case, same shall remain in effect for the remaining term of this Agreement.” Article 16, Sec. 3(f). This is basically giving the APA veto power over any oversight policies. The APOA and City Code have severability clauses, so if a court overturns any part, the other terms remain enforceable. If a contract is approved with this provision, the APOA passes in May, and/or if an OPO ordinance is passed, the APA can sue over ANY ELEMENT. If just one clause is invalidated, the contract will revert the entire oversight system to the current post-arbitration system that neutered the OPO. During negotiations, the City proposed this clause without any public request from APA.
There are significant improvements in the four-year proposal that we credit the parties for including, but the proposal is clearly incompatible with the ballot language and still subverts the democratic process. Note that none of the provisions highlighted above should be subject to the limitations of Chapter 143 of the Government Code.
We promised the voters they could have their say. We deliberately chose to let the voters decide at the ballot box. The City Council and City Manager should not ignore elections because “we know better.” At a time when democracy is under attack, the precedent we set will determine the integrity of our democratic institutions and the faith of the people that their elected officials truly represent them. Let the people vote!
Police Contract Temporary Extension
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