Viral videos cause debate, but Police Monitor does not always investigate

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Three different videos showing police officers across the state of Texas using force all recently went viral, including one in Austin. But here in the capital city, no amount of public or social media outrage can prompt an Austin Police Monitor investigation if a formal complaint is not properly filed.

“I can see something incredibly disturbing to me, but I do not have the authority to start the complaint process,” said Margo Frasier, the Austin Police Monitor.

A video posted over the weekend shows an Austin mounted patrol officer snatching a man’s cell phone seconds before the man is pepper sprayed. McKinney Police are also reviewing a video showing one of their officers getting physical with a teenager at a neighborhood pool. A video also surfaced last month showing an Addison Police officer smashing out a man’s car window after he failed to comply with the officer’s request.

Despite such videos causing social media debates, Frasier said a small number of formal complaints filed to her office come with accompanying video. She thinks those with the video post it online, but fail to go through the proper channels to file a complaint.

“What happens is, sometimes people do not know who to go to,” she said.

Under the city’s “Meet and Confer” agreement, the Office of the Police Monitor can only investigate a complaint if it is formally filed or if APD requests the investigation. APD said they are reviewing the recent incident on Sixth Street involving the mounted patrol officer, but Frasier said that does not automatically include her office.

“Often when the police department says they will review it, it does not necessarily mean a complaint will be filed or an investigation filed.”

Frasier referenced the February 2014 video showing officers using force against a jogger as one which garnered plenty of attention, but never a formal complaint with the OPM. And simply viewing the video online does not allow one to file a formal complaint.

“It is much easier and much more thorough an investigation when we have the individuals who not only filmed it, but also the individuals on the other end of the use of force.”

Although a complaint is needed for the OPM to investigate, Frasier said she can urge the department to check into certain situations if she sees something concerning online or in the media.

So far this year, more than 200 people have contacted the OPM, but only 17 have ended up filing a complaint. Of those who contacted the office, 147 asked to speak to a supervisor. Internal complaints from inside the department have been filed 91 times this year.

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