Friday, July 22, 2011

Jordan Smith peeks behind the curtain at Austin PD

Jordan Smith at the Austin Chronicle has a couple of notable items related to Austin PD and its alumni that merit Grits readers' attention:

Peeking behind the curtain at police misconduct data
For starters, Jordan offers further analysis of the recent Austin police monitor's 2010 annual report (pdf, discussed on Grits here), honing in on the fact that Austin PD acts on complaints from other officers but not usually from the general public: "Seventy-nine percent of all allegations of misconduct made against police officers by colleagues inside the Austin Police Department were sustained by supervisors, according to the 2010 annual report released last week by Austin Police Monitor Margo Frasier. That number stands in stark contrast to the outcome of complaints made to the Police Monitor's Office by members of the public. Just 11% of the allegations made in so-called "external" complaints were sustained by the subject officer's chain of command." So 89% of complaints by the public are not sustained compared to 21% of complaints by officers: a 4.2 to 1 disparity in the likelihood a complaint will be rejected by APD brass.

She also picks up a tidbit I'd missed: The monitor's report broke down complaint outcomes (in aggregate) which in the past have been kept secret from the public: "Of the formal complaints made by the public that were sustained, half resulted in an oral reprimand and counseling for the disciplined officer; a majority of disciplined officers given complaints from a colleague received either a written (32%) or oral reprimand and counseling (32%). A large percentage of internally generated complaints (more than 40%, Frasier says) involve officers damaging city-owned police cars." It doesn't seem like much, but that's more than has ever been reported in the past about complaints that do not result in more serious punishment.

Nothing too earth shattering in the report - either Frasier's or Smith's - but it's great to see the Austin Police Monitor's office really ascending to relevancy for the first time under Frasier's leadership. Years ago I helped create a political action committee called the Sunshine Project for Police Accountability that campaigned throughout the late '90s in Austin for the creation of the police monitor's office, but save for a brief glint of life under the first-ever Monitor, who soon departed, the whole concept has been a severe disappointment. If Margo Frasier keeps it up, though, she'll quickly turn around my pessimistic view, which while entrenched is not irrational. The office always had a lot of "bully pulpit" potential that none of Frasier's predecessors had the gravitas nor willingness to use. Much to Chief Art Acevedo's chagrin, the former Sheriff possesses both.

Peeking behind the curtain at police union politics
Former Austin Police Association President Mike Sheffield is ironically in a labor dispute with his employers at the Combined Law Enforcement Associations of Texas, Jordan reports:
Mike Sheffield, the retired Austin Police Department detective who was president of the Austin Police Associa­tion for eight years before retiring in 2006, was fired July 18 from his job as a field representative and training coordinator with the Combined Law Enforcement Associations of Texas, the state's largest police union. The reason? ... Sheffield says he's in the process of retaining an attorney and that he will appeal his termination to an arbitrator. Moreover, he says he'll file a complaint with the federal National Labor Rela­tions Board, via his local union (interestingly, the International Union of Painters and Allied Trades, District Council 88), because he believes his termination is "in large part" related to his candidacy in a run-off election to become president of the CLEAT staff union. "It's very clear, in my opinion, that the executive director of CLEAT was using any excuse in an effort to influence the outcome of that election," says the retired detective.
I have no knowledge of the merits of this case, but let me be clear up front that I hope Mike Sheffield is wrong and the recipient of a good bench slapping. Not for any good public policy reasons nor because I believe the union wasn't trying to sabotage his candidacy, but because I was on the losing end of so many fights with Mr. Sheffield over the years - including over the creation of the Police Monitor's office, which he successfully gutted in closed-door negotiations - to the point that I now can't help but engage in schadenfreude. ;) (Just kidding, Mike!)

And speaking of union politics, earlier this month, Jordan had another good piece describing the controversy within the Austin Police Association - a CLEAT member organization where Sheffield used to be president - over the purchase of a $1 million union hall without a vote from the membership. Personally I'm all for APA buying an expensive building because the $400,000 in savings they spent on a mortgage downpayment means that much less money available to send out mailers on behalf of sycophantic city council candidates, etc., at election time. That doesn't mean it's a smart move for them, and in fact I can see why it's drawing heat: as a practical matter it depletes resources that would otherwise be available for political activity (or defending members from misconduct charges) and commits more future revenue to a new facility than APA previously paid in rent. Even so, from Smith's reporting it sounds like APA leadership already entered into the loan agreement and the real estate deal is more or less a fait accompli,unless something dramatic happens following the fall elections.


78748 - Where Bubba Lives said...

I wish Austin FD had this same level of scrutiny. The boys and girls on the big red trucks abuse the hell out sick leave and drive up overtime. Meanwhile, our current fire chief has recommended the elimination of a engineer in the Fire Marshal's office who is responsible for ensuring the semiconductor industry stores and handles its chemicals correctly.

Penny wise and pound foolish. Rhoda May the Fire Chief is a fool.

Anonymous said...

There is a shadowy organization that constantly seeks to change our opinions and to advocate for a limited set of issues. Who are these people? One of their key operating principles is to not reveal themselves. Why is that? Why this need for secrecy? Why hide in the shadows?

To learn who they are, a suggested first step is to check this out: Progressive and Activist Organizations in Austin, TX

Learn about the groups that comprise this list. Next, do a more thorough investigation. What is their agenda?

If you don't believe they hide things, see how fast they delete this. See how fast they cover things up and step back into the shadows.

Anonymous said...

Gee, I thought you meant the investors in the Formula One Fiasco that have refused to reveal their names.

Perhaps it is the IMG Consulting group that Ben Wear says is about to get a $100,000 fee and a nice 12 per cent commission for their share of any revenue they produce for "naming rights it could rustle up" to rail stations? Wonder who IMG is? Who is their lobby front man? Who actually cashes the checks? If the voters reject "light rail" by a 60 per cent margin do we get the $100,000 back? Of course not. Once again, more fine work by Cap Metro. Another disappearing act of taxpayers money.

What the heck are the "shadowy organizations" this guy is talking about?

Anonymous said...

You should look into where Mike Sheffield is currently employed and HOW he acquired this new position. Hint1: Sheffield was not a job finalist...strongarmed hiring supv for this one too. Hint2: Sheffield is rarely productive for this unit but spends his time promoting his own agenda while his coworkers have no choice but to make up for his absence. Hint3: Sheffield has used his friendship with a certain assistant chief (Mannix) for protection **This is also how he got his job. APD shouldn't have hired him for his current job title...there is a serious integrity issue but his best friend who is in his chain of command protects him.

Anonymous said...

Jordan Smith is a personal friend of Mike Sheffield according to Mr Sheffield. I wouldn't trust a word written by this 'journalist'