Monday, February 21, 2005

ACLU: Keep Austin PD Off UT Campus

The Austin PD doesn't patrol the UT-Austin campus, for good reason; UT has its own police force for that. So if APD began providing security for the UT campus, why would taxpayers want to pay for a separate university police department at all?

That's one of the questions Jim Spangler will be asking
this afternoon when he testifies on behalf of the Students for ACLU of UT Austin at the House Higher Education Committee, in opposition to HB 479 by Terry Keel, R-Austin. That bill would give the Austin PD "concurrent jurisdiction" with the UT Police Department over the UT Austin campus. Based on student concerns and some additional problems identified by the Police Accountability Project, we outlined several problems with the bill in a fact sheet Jim is distributing to members. Thought I'd post it in case anybody is interested, with a couple of hyperlinks added.

UPDATE: Here's the Daily Texan coverage of the hearing.

Apparently Rep. Keel's purpose for filing this bill stems from some incident where UT officers weren't allowed to carry their handguns into a UT football game. If that's the case, I sure wish he'd write a bill about cops carrying handguns into football games, which I suppose, at bottom, I don't particularly care about, instead of creating all the problems (see below) associated with "concurrent" jurisdiction.

Oppose HB 479: APD Jurisdiction on UT Campus
Issues and Concerns

Current law gives UTPD policing authority over the UT-Austin campus. HB 479 would give the Austin PD “concurrent” or simultaneous jurisdiction.

  1. Law is unnecessary: Chapter 14.03(d) and (g) of the Texas Code of Criminal Procedure allow officers to enforce essentially all laws but traffic enforcement outside their jurisdiction, so APD officers have full authority to supply needed police power in an emergency. In a non-emergency, UTPD is equipped to handle the situation.
  2. Could create functional problems: Concurrent jurisdictions create confusion among law enforcement and emergency services personnel as to who is in charge. Right now, the lines of authority are clear and no one is confused, even if APD doesn’t like it. HB 479 risks confusion and muddying the chain of command during a time of crisis. Accommodating bruised egos inside APD is not reason enough to risk creating confusion at some critical moment.
  3. Fear APD will subject students to increased Taser attacks. APD officers are overusing Taser weapons. Tasers are often deadly weapons, but APD use of force policies do not treat them as such. More than 80 people have died nationally from police use of Tasers. We don’t want a UT student to be the next one. If APD officers are allowed to operate on campus, HB 479 should require those officers to comply with UTPD’s use of force policy. Austin allows its officers to escalate to violence, especially using Tasers, too quickly and with little accountability.
  4. Disallow undercover monitoring of activists: APD officers have infiltrated peaceful activist groups without probable cause to think anyone was planning any crime. UTPD has done it, too, but APD has said it uses its undercover narcotics unit to target anti-war activists for undercover surveillance on an ongoing basis, whenever events are being planned. This bill could encourage APD to undertake more aggressive, if inappropriate, surveillance of student activists. Would the sponsor be willing to change the bill to disallow APD undercover surveillance of student meetings and activist groups when there is no probable cause to believe a crime is being committed or planned?
  5. Students have more rights with UTPD: At UTPD, students who complain can better hold UTPD accountable because they can access more information about their case and the university’s ombudsman provides more extensive services and support to students who complain about UTPD than Austin’s Police Monitor does for Austin PD. Information about a citizen complaint against an Austin PD officer are entirely closed records unless an officer is actually suspended from the force. Complainants can only find out the eventual outcome of their complaint, but not information about the investigation. Plus, APD officers who engage in misconduct receive special protections compared to UT officers, who are more accountable for their behavior because they are not covered under the state civil service law.


Jonathan Horak said...

As a student at the University, what can I do about this? (Aside from calling Terry Keel, which I intend to do tomorrow morning.)

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Here's the committee list of the representatives who will vote on the bill next week. I'd suggest trying to find folks on campus from their home districts and have them call or drop by their offices at the capitol. Also, we need to spread the word publicly -- there's been little coverage, and most students don't know it's happening, much less why they should oppose it. LTEs to the Statesman and Chron wouldn't hurt. Neither would calling the Mayor and city councilmembers to tell them to ask Rep. Keel to back off the bill. Best,

Jonathan Horak said...

Thanks Scott, I'll get right on this after class today.

Taylor said...

Is there any word on H.B. 254? I hope it doesn't stall in committee like H.B. 715 did in 2003.

If anyone knows anything, such as if this bill is gaining support or the overall tone in the house, lemee know.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

No word on HB 254, but the committee that would hear it (House Criminal Jurisprudence) has only met once, so it's early. That said, from a political perspective, the counties would have to want to relieve jail overcrowding badly enough to take a political risk that goes against the grain for many of them. They're broke, can't raise taxes, and need new jail space they can't afford. The counties failing to support HB 254, to me, is like leaving money on the table -- an easy fix to a chronic, statewide county overincarceration problem. Then, I haven't noticed any Texas Association of Counties lobbyists (my grandfather W.D. Henson was co-founder and first president, BTW) showing up in the comments section to ask my advice. Sigh. If only they'd read my blog, he whined ...

Taylor said...

Thanks for taking the time to reply :) I have a primary interest in marijuana legislation in Texas and very interested to see if this bill goes anywhere. I would be surprised if it did personally, but I remain optimistic and I have spread the word about it to friends and other people on the net as much as I can.

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