Wednesday, April 22, 2020

Austin PD made bodycam policy worse, and no one in the Austin press reported it. Shocking.

Grits is still catching up on all that went on while I was under the weather these last few months, and wanted to visit the new, much-worse bodycam policy enacted by Austin PD on March 16. Farah Muscadin at the city's Office of Police Oversight put out a formal objection to the new policy two weeks ago that deserves readers' attention.

Basically, APD downgraded violations of the bodycam policy and made those violations much less transparent. Wrote Muscadin, "These changes delegitimize the discipline process by trivializing conduct that has historically been treated as a significant policy violation."

In essence, this is a reaction to the (relatively) new police contract enacted in 2018. Under the revised contract, written reprimands of officers became public records for the first time. Previously, the public couldn't know about disciplined officers unless they were suspended from duty as a punishment.

Under the old policy, on the first offense bodycam violations received punishments ranging from a written reprimand to a one to three day suspension, with penalties increasing by one level on the second  and third offenses.

Now, officers receive "oral counseling" on the first offense, get a "counseling memorandum" on the second offense, and on the third offense punishments range from an "oral reprimand" to a one-to-three day suspension.

So, as Muscadin notes, "Due to the March 16th changes, an officers third sustained violation of the [bodycam policy] now results in lighter discipline than an officer used to receive upon their first violation of those policies." And since they'll no longer receive written reprimands, the public can no longer discover these violations under the Public Information Act.

APD notified the Office of Police Oversight on the same day it took effect. Noted Muscadin, "APD's practice of soliciting feedback on proposed policy changes without providing adequate notice or opportunity to respond is unacceptable and contradictory to APD's support of civilian oversight."

Muscadin recommended the department reverse this policy and go back to the old one and Grits couldn't agree more. Enacting the policy without giving anyone - even the OPO - a realistic chance to respond reeks of bad faith, and mirrors their behavior gutting the police complaint process, which Grits discussed previously, to make that process more opaque.

Finally, this is another big story at Austin PD which has been utterly, 100% ignored by the local media. Apparently, if the APD Public Information Office doesn't spoon feed reporters a story, they just don't cover it. And when APD does spoon fed them something, they spin it to avoid saying anything critical.

Grits hopes the Austin City Council intervenes to reverse both the bodycam policy and the new policy on the complaint process. These changes appear intentionally designed to undermine police oversight and hard-won gains in the police contract process. They must not stand.


Gadfly said...

Grits, per your lament about the press in Austin? I don't know about radio or teevee, but I do know that, from years-ago reading, the alt-weekly Austin Chronicle, compared with, say a Dallas Observer, was always light on hard news, and now that Craphouse has bought the Stateless, you ain't getting nothing from them.

This is the new normal.

Anonymous said...

Great to see'ya back up and at it! Remain safe, sane, and skeptical.

When I went to check the ad for comfy at home pants, it didn't connect. Anyway, I tried to support GFB, but the linking system failed me.