City Council wants answers on Austin police grievances audit

Austin police (Phil Prazan/KXAN)
Austin police (Phil Prazan/KXAN)

AUSTIN (KXAN) — The Austin Police Department says they want to make it much easier for people to file complaints against officers.

This comes after unveiling a lengthy proposal to address an audit that discovered issues with the way grievances against police officers are handled.

The city released the report last month. It found several barriers for citizens to file complaints.

Police Chief Art Acevedo sent representatives to meet with city council members on Wednesday. The city’s top officers will meet to answer questions from city leaders directly.

“I hope high level Austin Police Department representatives will have answers to our questions about why some of those gaps are occurring,” said Austin Mayor Pro Tem Kathie Tovo. “It’s really an issue of great concern to make sure that the police department is responding appropriately when they receive a complaint.”

The study examined 1,200 complaints filed against APD officers between October 2013 and December 2015. About 60 percent of the complaints were made by citizens, the audit discovered.

The grievances addressed a variety of topics, including how officers drove their cruisers, how they treated citizens and how they made arrests. The audit found problems in every process of filing a complaint, including reporting one, the investigation into a grievance and evaluating criticism.

“These issues may lead to a more negative perception of law enforcement and erode the public trust in APD,” the report concluded.

It also found that there are too many barriers to file a grievance. The department did not clearly explain how to post a complaint. The location of the Police Monitor’s Office, the independent city agency that reviews cases, is several miles from downtown Austin.

Barriers also included language, according to the study. The department has complaint forms only in English and Spanish.

Another red flag: not all of the complaints are recorded. Some of the grievances that were brought to APD supervisors are missing from the complaint database.

The report also found several issues with the department’s policies and practices. One of them highlights the way the department categorizes serious violations and minor ones by officers, and the wording used to describe the offense.

“This wording in the policy makes the process subjective and can result in different supervisors treating complaints differently,” the study warned.

A fourth problem is with the city’s independent review board, the Police Monitor’s Office. The audit discovered that staffers cannot automatically access all of the complaints. The study also discovered that an officer’s word against another officer may carry more weight.

“A majority of complaints from officers resulted in discipline compared to less than five percent of complaints from members of the public,” according to the study. “Overall, more than half of all complaints did not result in any discipline.”

Tovo said one way to inform citizens of how to make a complaint is to put the information on tickets and citations.

Acevedo sent the city a detailed letter before the meeting, outlining some of their top concerns.

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