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.