Friday, November 22, 2013

Citizen complaints rising vs. Austin PD

According to the Austin Police Monitor's latest six-month update (pdf):
In the first half of 2013, 674 people contacted the OPM with the intent of filing a complaint. As of this writing, it looks like calendar year 2013 will see more complaints than were received in 2012. If so, this will be the first time in three years, the OPM has seen an increase in the number of complaints.

In the first half of 2013, the very first mediation session between members of the APD and a member of the public occurred at the Dispute Resolution Center. 
See also their most recent 2012 annual report (pdf), which is much more detailed.
As a practical matter, there are very few complaints filed against Austin PD officers by citizens because the system is utterly opaque and perceived to be rigged, with few officers ever disciplined and virtually no information coming back to complainants about how or why their accusations are (almost inevitably) dismissed without any consequences for the officers. When people ask me whether they should file complaints with APD over alleged misconduct, Grits routinely tells them they're wasting their time. If it's a really big deal, file a lawsuit; if not, go on about your life. APD's complaint process will bring you little but frustration and aggravation, accomplishing nothing.
By contrast, internal complaints by police officers against their peers are much less numerous but taken much more seriously by department brass and are more likely to ultimately result in discipline. 

One good thing Police Monitor Margo Frasier has done is begin to publish police disciplinary records online. See here. In civil service cities like Austin, information about police discipline only becomes a public record if an officer is suspended for multiple days. In non-civil service departments - which include the overwhelming majority of Texas agencies - information about ALL complaints and disciplinary actions are public records, making those agencies much more accountable.


Katy said...

Grits, could you please elaborate on how you qualified the following statement (anecdotal evidence, prior media reports, etc)?

As a practical matter, there are very few complaints filed against Austin PD officers by citizens because the system is utterly opaque and perceived to be rigged, with few officers ever disciplined and virtually no information coming back to complainants about how or why their accusations are (almost inevitably) dismissed without any consequences for the officers.

I did a quick Google search on "Austin Police Monitor" and the website to which I was directed had a pretty straight forward break down of the process and explanation on how to file a complaint (which also seemed fairly simple).

Also, I read the first four disciplinary memorandums on the website and two of them (50%) stemmed from citizen complaints about how they had been treated.

Furthermore, I was able to find a copy of the Austin Police Department's policy manual online, and filing a complaint seems as simple as requesting that a supervisor respond to the scene to speak with the complainant; the supervisor is then required to notify both Internal Affairs and the Office of the Police Monitor, according to the policy.

Is it possible you're transposing data from Emily Deprang's story about the Houston PD's disciplinary system or assuming that the two departments only have nominal differences?

Gritsforbreakfast said...

No, Katy, I'm not transposing Emily's story at all. As it happens, I was part of the campaign to create the Austin Police Monitor's office in the '90s and am more aware than most of its strengths and weaknesses. Margo Frasier is the best Monitor we've had but the office is structurally gelded and incapable of serving as a meaningful vehicle for citizen complaints, which is why hardly any are filed there and those that are have little chance of resulting in discipline. See this commentary, and also here, for more background on why I feel that way.

Anonymous said...

"Structurally Gelded", now that's an original term I've never seen before. And quite accurately sums up the majority of citizen review boards, which are created only to soothe an outraged public after a few cops are caught on video either beating or murdering an innocent. A year or two later they're outed as toothless or filled with former police officers. Perhaps they exist, but I've never seen a successful review board yet.

Anonymous said...

Grits, I enjoy reading you information but I am always confused by something. You seem to be a strong advocate for due process in the criminal justice system. When it comes to due process being provided for police complaints, you seem to take the position that providing due process for police means that the complaint system is broken. In my opinion, due process is due process--- regardless of whether the accused is a civilian or an officer. Frankly Civil Service Commissions usually favor police administration, not the officer accused. Hearing officers are neutral (either side can strike them) and frequently are ex-judges or employment law specialists.

Anonymous said...

"Neutral" is a misconception.....and even judges have biases. The "just a system" is a human endeavor.

Anonymous said...

Police seem to be "due" more process than other accused. If my client in Harris County is accused of a crime he is in court facing charges the next week whether indicted or not. If it is a DWI no one waits for the blood test results before charging. If a cop gets caught lying on a sworn report and affidavit for a warrant he may never be charged in spite of video proof of the perjury. It appears to me that some animals are more equal than others.
Brad Walters.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

@10:55, I'm all for "due process." But civil service cities have created extra processes whose sole purpose is to protect bad cops. Due process is what criminal defendants get in court. But they aren't entitled, for example, to a delay before questioning the way cops in civil service cities are, nor are there exception to the open records act the way there are for cops. Apples and oranges.

Anonymous said...

Grits, as a long-time Austin resident, I appreciate your efforts to shine light on to APD's abysmal record of not being responsive to taxpayer complaints. For such a fabulously well-paid constabulary, or perhaps fabulously over-paid constabulary, the professionalism of APD is lacking. I have spoken with APD officers who thrilled at the prospect of chasing and then beating up "civilians"(an odd term considering police are civilians as well). And APD officers seem more willing to heighten tension and thereby escalate situations than other law enforcement officers (like DPS troopers).

Powderm said...

Katie, the best way I can explain it is the Police Monitor's website shows 50/50 civilian complaints and officer discipline files but there are 1000's of complaints over the years that are run thru a system one activist called a dog and pony show, where the complainant appeals to the Civilian Panel Review because they felt the Internal Investigation is intentionally biased towards the officers complained about, as well as flat out not investigating properly such as questioning all witnesses and staying loyal to the facts. Some officers have even appealed to them in their own denied cases, stating the investigators are cherry picking the rules and facts. The Civilian Panel Review was also composed of quite a few long timers who had police and political ties and who have served for 3,4 and 7 years or more. No one knows how many of the public complaints, the panel ruled for or against, or required more investigation. This system needs to be changed into a public process and panel members need to be changed every 6 months at least. Grits for Breakfast has the best ideas I've seen for this process. I am the author of 'Are There Christian Cops in Austin Texas' and have researched alot as a hobby.