Wednesday, November 01, 2017

Checking in on opposition to Austin police union contract

After the final, negotiated police-union contract in Austin failed to include most reform recommendations from the Austin Justice Coalition and its growing array of allies, police reformers along with anti-tax advocates are now openly asking the City Council to not renew the contract, which will slather officers who are already the state's most highly paid with more than $80 million in new raises and new benefits (like the "patrol stipend" that pays patrol officers more for ... wait for it ... patrolling). The union will vote on the contract soon (it includes a $1,000 "signing bonus" for every officer), and the Austin City Council is scheduled to consider it in December.

Austin can avoid those extra costs and save millions more without harming officer pay by letting the contract expire. And, by all accounts, we would lose scarce little in real-world police accountability. Indeed, arguably accountability in some ways would improve.

For example, Austin PD automatically reduces suspensions to lower-level infractions that aren't subject to open records or even criminal discovery, according to this analysis from the Texas Criminal Justice Coalition. My wife, Kathy Mitchell, works at TCJC and authored the report. She opined in the press release, “No private sector employer or HR department would agree that a boss should not be able to consider an employee’s past serious misconduct if that employee violates the rules again later.” That's pretty decent messaging, don't you think? It emphasizes the degree to which Austin cops receive unusually special treatment under the contract.

In addition, Kathy/TCJC recently published another analysis detailing numerous reform recommendations for the Austin Police Department from its civilian review panel. APD has never implemented any of them. See also an executive summary and an appendix.

These two reports together show why local accountability advocates don't care if the civilian review panel is abolished. It's been in place nearly two decades and has never spurred meaningful change at APD. Meanwhile other, portions of the contract actually make police less accountable.

On our latest Reasonably Suspicious podcast, Kathy and Sukyi McMahon from Just Liberty discussed local advocacy surrounding the police contract and why they ended up opposing it. Here's that segment, excerpted, give it a listen:

RELATED: See also a speech by Campaign Zero's Sam Sinyangwe explaining why Austin's police union contract ranks as one of the worst and least accountable in the country.

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