Saturday, December 19, 2009

Austin chief can't bypass officer for promotion who visited brothel on vacation

Police accountability in this state is seriously hindered by the state civil service code, which governs police discipline, promotions and other departmental employment practices for the 70 or so cities which have opted in (including all of the big ones except Dallas and El Paso). Nearly all jurisdictions governed by the civil service code opted in many decades ago - most of them in the '40s and '50s - but in the late '80s the state's large police unions achieved working control over that section of the law at the Legislature and added numerous problematic provisions like closing most disciplinary records (which are public records at non-civil service cities).

To make matters worse, in recent years the police unions (they're officially "associations," I know, but let's call a spade a spade) have been pushing for "meet and confer" authority - which is essentially a version of collective bargaining - and forcing cities to "buy" their way out of bad civil service laws at the bargaining table with higher wages. That's the dynamic that's led to the Austin city budget bleeding red after then-Mayor Kirk Watson backed massive raises for police in exchange for "concessions" like the right to bypass an officer for promotion based on their disciplinary history or other valid reasons.

An example of that may be found in a story out of Austin about Chief Art Acevedo whose efforts to select commanders based on merit instead of tenure earned him a rebuke in arbitration. Now he must promote a commander he doesn't need or want.

At issue was the promotion of Wayne Demoss, who Chief Acevedo wanted to bypass after the department received an allegation that Demoss hired a prostitute while on a trip to Panama. When confronted with the allegation, Demoss admitted visiting the brothel in question but said he did not pay for sex - sort of like Bill Clinton who smoked pot but didn't inhale.

Investigators couldn't definitively prove otherwise so the arbitrator says Acevedo has no choice but to make Demoss one of Austin's 19 commanders, the top non-appointed slot in the department. He'll probably have to demote the guy who was promoted in his stead.

Part of me thinks it's not that big a deal if the fellow visited a legal brothel in another country: As a matter of full disclosure, when I was 18 or 19 I visited Mexican brothels in border towns on a couple of trips, though unlike Demoss I admittedly "inhaled." Of course, I was a repressed Baptist kid from East Texas acting out, not a middle-aged man and a police lieutenant.

OTOH, I don't think Chief Acevedo was overreaching not to want to promote a fellow who likes to visit brothels on his vacation - whether he paid for sex, these are casual leisure associations the department has an understandable reason for discouraging. Even if it's not enough to fire or demote him over, IMO that's enough for the chief (who's kind of a tight-assed, straight-arrow type) not to want him in a top commander's slot.

The arbitrator disagreed, though. They seemingly always disagree. After all, both the union and the department must agree on an arbitrator, and the union won't agree to folks who uphold too many firings or promotion bypasses. The whole thing about having a "property right" to your job over and above your boss' ability to control you is really a labor model from a past era. Out in the real world, folks with longer tenure see younger people with greater skills or ambition promoted past them all the time, and just hanging around longer than anybody else and passing a written test isn't enough to get you promoted to a top management slot. But that's how most larger Texas police departments are run.

As Austin has found out, there's not enough money in the taxpayers' coffers to buy your way out of all the bad provisions in state civil service law that prevent police chiefs from effectively disciplining their officers or managing their department. The chief can't fire who he wants, he can't promote who he wants, but he's held accountable for what the department accomplishes even as he's stripped of all control - pretty damn tough job, if you ask me. The union has more sway with city council at the end of the day than Acevedo does, as has been the case with all of his predecessors since I've lived in Austin.


Anonymous said...

It is unfortunate that most of the unions in the United States have become a haven for the over paid, under skilled, and incompetent.

Their reputation destroys the good workers that are union members.

I do not believe there is a union in all the Unites States that has a reputation anyone except a union thug would brag about.

Soronel Haetir said...

Sorry Grits, I believe that both the chief and yourself have got this one wrong. With no evidence of actual wrongdoing only unseemly behavior I would have to side with the promotion candidate.

Anonymous said...

I'm interested to know exactly how they found out about his unseemly behavior. I understand the concept of "what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas" but was he bragging about his encounters? Were there pictures posted on his facebook page?

Also Soronel, I understand your point and I think that it is a very good one. But I think that one would have to look at departmental policy and what restrictions being a member of that organization entailed.

I know that in my job, there are certain restrictions that I have agreed to and can be fired if I don't comply.

Citizen Joe said...

Perhaps Police "Associations" should be reminded of their Code of Ethics they are to follow,even while they are in Vegas OR Mexico

As a Law Enforcement Officer, my fundamental duty is to serve mankind; to safeguard lives and property; to protect the innocent against deception, the weak against oppression or intimidation, and the peaceful against violence or disorder; and to respect the Constitutional rights of all men to liberty, equality and justice.

I will keep my private life unsullied as an example to all; maintain courageous calm in the face of danger, scorn, or ridicule; develop self-restraint; and be constantly mindful of the welfare or others. Honest in thought and deed in both my personal and official life, I will be exemplary in obeying the laws of the land and the regulations of my department. Whatever I see or hear of a confidential nature or that is confided to me in my official capacity will be kept ever secret unless revelation is necessary in the performance of my duty.

I will never act officiously or permit personal feelings, prejudices, animosities or friendships to influence my decisions. With no compromise for crime and with relentless prosecution of criminals, I will enforce the law courteously and appropriately without fear or favor, malice or ill will, never employing unnecessary force or violence and never accepting gratuities.

I recognize the badge of my office as a symbol of public faith, and I accept it as a public trust to be held so long as I am true to the ethics of the police service. I will constantly strive to achieve these objectives and ideals, dedicating myself before God to my chosen enforcement.

Although, I would offer that few could possibly adhere to all the above all the time.

Unions are good for making sure employers aren't taking advantage of employees. Unions are not good when they are taking advantage of the public. I'd much rather someone in 'command' be without any prior arrest or indiscretion as such. Tenure should NOT be the reason one is promoted. Tight ass or not, Acevedo should have the right to promote who is more trustworthy to obey the laws no matter what country they are in.

Hook Em Horns said...

The police are just another limb on this massive SHADE tree that is Texas. If you are shady, crooked, corrupt, creepy, nasty and/or a criminal...come to Texas!!!!

Gritsforbreakfast said...

So Soronel, you believe police commanders (not corporals or sergeants but top brass) should be promoted based solely on tenure, not on who the chief believes will make the best leaders for the department?If so, would you want a corporation in which you owned stock to take the same approach? All the companies that used to do so changed or went under.

Curious52 said...

Police Accountability!
What a JOKE!
The McGregor police murdered my son, and got away with it, as no local/state/federal agency will help in my fight for justice! (Joshua Robinson) Attached documents within the story, click on the underlined phrases.

Deb said...

Thanks for covering this Grits. And Citizen Joe, very apt statement: "Unions are good for making sure employers aren't taking advantage of employees. Unions are not good when they are taking advantage of the public."

As Grits notes, we don't have access to disciplinary files on officers, and APD is known in TX as one of the worst to clamp down on such access (where other entities interpret the law more liberally). That means we don't know what else the Chief knows about his past that could perhaps also reflect negatively as a leader in the dept.

So even if you think a cop has every right to "inhale" on his vacation in a country where prostitution is legal (but note also the sex slave trade is ripe), consider you simply don't know what else is on his record that the Chief doesn't want to become public for whatever reason (perhaps where such info would open the door to more wide spread scrutiny - beyond one cop).

Deb said...

How they found out? That is an interesting question.

I know that IA questioned him upon his return. I do not know if this is standard practice or he brought it on himself by bragging or whatnot, that they were moved to do so by policy.

PirateFriedman said...

Citizen Joe, lay off the cheese. I like a lot of cops, but you guys are just another group living off other people's money.