Saturday, November 07, 2020

Finally! TV news gives voice to criticisms of Austin chief's 'staunch resistance to change'

Wonder of wonders, KXAN, a local Austin TV station, picked up on the story of the Austin Office of Police Oversight recommending new rules against rudeness. (See earlier Grits coverage of the OPO's recommendations.) Reporter Alyssa Goard then followed up when OPO Director Farah Muscadin sent a letter to city  management complaining their recommendations were ignored. Muscadin opined to City Manager Spencer Cronk that Austin PD management under Brian Manley continues his "staunch resistance to change."

Good job! Muscadin is the best police monitor Austin has ever had, and the new systems created in the wake of the 2018 police-contract fight are shaping up as truly significant.

Good job Alyssa and KXAN, too. This is all Grits really wants from the media: Tell us the stuff APD doesn't want you to report in addition to the stuff their PIO office hands you about how great they are. It's not like there aren't alternative sources, they just require a bit more work than regurgitating whatever police-department flaks gave you on a silver platter that day.

Here's Muscadin's letter. And here's Alyssa's description of the rebuffed changes that spurred Muscadin to go over Brian Manley's head:

APD’s General Orders, the document that outline’s the department’s rules, already requires officers make every effort to be “courteous” and “respectful” but OPO recommended adding “kind” and “patient” to that list of adjectives. Muscadin said APD did not wind up adding “kind” and “patient” to this line in its final changes.

“I thought these honestly were kind of no-brainers, that it wouldn’t be a difference of opinion about,” Muscadin said of APD’s decision on this line.

Currently, APD’s general orders for personal conduct state employees, while on duty or on the premise of city facilities will not “use loud, indecent, profane, or harsh, derogatory language, or use belittling term[s] in any communications language.”

OPO’s recommendations moved those items to the “Impartial Attitude & Courtesy” section of the orders and added officers should refrain from using indecent, profane, or harsh language or gestures “around other City employees” and “when communicating with the chain of command or fellow officers.” OPO also recommended violations of this policy should be reported by employees by the end of the shift in which the violation occurred and that supervisors should initiate investigations into this report within three days of being notified.

All of those recommendations, Muscadin said, were not included in the changes APD made.

“I do not see increasing professionalism as a controversial topic,” she said, adding that she believes APD not including her office’s recommendations suggests the department “is ok with that being done by fellow officers.”

Muscadin emphasized her office’s recommendations are not meant to criticize officers but rather to address ongoing concerns with officer conduct which she said predate the Office of Police Oversight’s existence which began in 2018.

The rejected language suggested by the OPO mirrors policies in other Texas cities, Goard reported, which makes it odd APD management would kick up a fuss.

But in truth, this is entirely in character. Keep in mind the context: In April more than two-dozen organizations formally banded together to call for Chief Manley's ouster because of his tolerance of racism in his command staff and routine, entrenched opposition to even the smallest reforms. A month later, thousands had taken to the streets chanting for his ouster by name. #FireManley became a common local hashtag. By June, the Austin City Council unanimously issued a "no confidence" vote after the department injured numerous protesters and appeared to instigate more violence than they prevented. Multiple council members openly expressed their views from the dais that APD needed new leadership.

Months later, the Office of Police Oversight is still decrying the chief's "staunch resistance to change" 

How long must Austinites tolerate this bumbling, regressive impediment to police reform? Manley's relationship with the community has soured and he continues to oppose substantive change at every turn.

Confounding matters, he keeps undermining the police monitor. Earlier this year, Muscadin said of APD's refusal to engage with OPO recommendations on rule making, "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." She felt that, "Obstruction of oversight through unilateral changes to policy that reduce transparency and accountability hinders the fair resolution of complaints and further diminishes community trust in APD."

Grits understands the civil-service code creates complications that must be overcome; I broke that story! But that's an excuse, not a reason. It's past time Austin move forward and hired a chief whose vision is more in line with the city council and the community here.

No comments: