Groups look to APD contract negotiations for improved police transparency

Community groups express concerns about Austin Police Association contract negotiations. (KXAN Photo/Alyssa Goard)
Community groups express concerns about Austin Police Association contract negotiations. (KXAN Photo/Alyssa Goard)

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Community groups gathered in front of a city of Austin building Tuesday to send a message to the Austin Police Association and to the Austin City Council: they want more transparency and accountability from Austin police.

The groups, which include the ACLU-Texas, Austin Justice Coalition Grassroots Leadership and others, met Tuesday because they’ve been following APA negotiations with the city over their public safety contract. They want significant modifications to the police contract to ensure “transparency, accountability, and oversight.”

They asked for: keeping police suspensions on record so histories of misconduct can be viewed, opposing the current 180 day rule saying that chiefs should be able to discipline officers for rule violations after 180 days, allowing misconduct to count against promotions within the police force, improving the citizen process for filing complaints against officers, allowing the citizen panel to subpoena witnesses and evidence, and giving the Austin police monitor the power to initiate investigations, even if a citizen has not filed a complaint.

Many at this gathering expressed frustration at the lack of community input at the “meet and confer” meetings that make up these contract negotiations.

“We try to come to the negotiating table and say let’s get some citizen oversight and insight that’s coming from the people you engage with,” said Lewis Conway, criminal justice organizer for Grassroots Leadership.

The family of Lawrence Parrish, the man shot by Austin police in April, has also been following these negotiations, hoping they could bring about some of the changes he is looking for. At first Austin police said their four officers fired at Parrish because he had fired at them. Then they revised their statement to say Parrish pointed a rifle at the officers but never fired. APD said Tuesday that while investigations into this case are ongoing, the four officers are now back on full duty.

“He’s still healing, incarcerated, under tremendous pain though, he had different surgeries, he was shot in his his back and upper shoulders, and he’s still in jail now with a $500,000 bond,” said Cluren Williams, Parrish’s brother.

Williams believes the contract can help promote a culture of accountability for APD.

“If they can’t do that or at least apologize or be transparent or accountable enough, then we need to come up with another solution,” he said.

That’s why these groups are calling on city council members not to approve the contract agreement if it doesn’t adequately address accountability issues.

Council Member Greg Casar responded to the concerns voiced by this group with the following statement.

“Everyone in our city deserves to feel safe, and I stand alongside community leaders who are calling for a police department that serves everyone equally. I won’t be able to vote for a police contract unless we see significant improvements to transparency and accountability.”

Ron DeLord, the chief negotiator for APA, explained that under this contract negotiation, all wages, hours, and other terms or conditions of employment are negotiable. He said that the only substantive issue between the city and the APA in these negotiations was their disagreement over granting subpoena power to the citizen review panel.

He explained that once they reach an agreement, it will need to be ratified by the city council which will have a public hearing about it.

“You also have to realize this contract includes diversity and minority hiring for the city, the ability to laterally hire, we’re giving the city lots of latitude to do that,” DeLord said.

He believed that in two weeks when both parties meet again they’ll have a tentative agreement. There are five more meetings scheduled, the Austin Police Association said.

Ken Casaday, president of the Austin Police Association, said that they are happy with the progress of the negotiations so far and they plan to be done by September. The contract which APA is finishing was a four year contract, the contract they are looking to sign is a five-year contract.

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