As the City of Austin moves forward with the renegotiation of its public safety contracts, activists are asking for several changes to the city’s contract with the local police union. The contract, which is negotiated every couple years, dictates pay, discipline and the legal rights of officers.
This is the first labor negotiation for a district-representative council.
Negotiations began nearly a month ago, according to Ken Casaday, president of the union. He said it’s a process that, in the past, has taken anywhere from four months to more than a year to complete. He doesn’t expect any big changes this time around.
“We’ve done this so many times in the past,” he said. “We have a very mature contract, so I don’t see a lot of big changes coming.”
But people who testified in front of council members Thursday are holding out hope for significant revisions.
On Thursday, activist Chris Harris argued for striking the right APD officers have to view evidence before talking to an investigator in an administrative or criminal case.
“We give them two full days to prepare to give a statement after they are presented with the complaint and all of the allegations,” he said.
Others asked for a simpler complaint process. Rebecca Webber, who chairs the city’s Public Safety Commission and is a member of the Citizen Review Panel, asked that more of the panel’s conversations with the police chief be made public.
“The CRP operates, as most of you know, almost entirely behind closed doors,” she said. According to the city’s current contract with the police union, if the citizen panel recommends discipline of an officer following a shooting, that recommendation is made public only once the police chief has decided whether to discipline the officer.
Council Member Greg Casar said he was struck by the limits on public information raised by Webber and other members of the city’s Citizen Review Panel.
“At this point, I can’t in good faith support the next contract unless we have significant improvements in transparency and accountability,” he said.
Council Member Jimmy Flannigan agreed.
“I think that transparency is key,” he said. “It’s something that we do in every other part of our city government.”
The negotiations are moving forward despite some hesitation in the fall. Several months ago, City Council members expressed the desire to delay the negotiations until a new, permanent city manager can be hired. The Austin Police Department is also under interim leadership after Chief Art Acevedo left to head-up the Houston Police Department.
“We raised the possibility that it would be better if the new city manager, when that city manager came in, was able to negotiate that person’s own long-term contracts with the three public safety associations,” Mayor Steve Adler told KUT back in November.