AUSTIN (KXAN) — The number of Austin police officers leaving the department spiked this month, nearly doubling the year’s total up to this point.
In all, 7 city police lieutenants, 9 sergeants, 5 detective corporals and 12 officers — a total of 33 people — have left the Austin Police Department this month in the wake of City Council’s decision to reject a new union contract two weeks ago. In the first 11 months of the year combined, 43 officers left the department.
To put the numbers in perspective, in November of this year, four sworn employees retired, and in December 2016, eight officers left. In total this year, the number of retirements are up about 30 percent over last year.
“I would say 99 to 100 percent of officers are leaving because we’re not going to have a contract and they would lose a substantial amount of money,” Austin Police Association President Ken Casaday told KXAN.
The current deal is set to expire at midnight Friday, meaning starting Saturday, officers will be working under civil service law instead, losing provisions guaranteed in the contract like better pay and better compensation upon retirement.
For instance, officers who have put in at least 12 years with APD are paid out their unused sick leave they’ve accrued through their careers. Under the contract, officers can get paid for up to 1,400 hours in most cases, and up to 1,700 hours depending on how much sick time they used in their last two years with the department. Without the union deal, those officers are only eligible for 900 hours of sick pay. That’s a difference of thousands, if not tens of thousands, of dollars in severance pay. APD is paying out $3.7 million among the 33 people retiring before the contract expires.
Casaday said the people leaving represent a big loss for the department and the city. “They’re having to replace almost the entire supervision at the airport,” he said. “We’re losing hundreds if not thousands of years of experience.”
“It’s absolutely not ideal,” interim Police Chief Brian Manley told KXAN earlier this month in anticipation of the retirements. “It’s not where I want us to be as a department, because we can’t provide our best level of service.”
Social justice advocates like the Austin Justice Coalition opposed the new deal, saying it didn’t go far enough to promote accountability and transparency within the department. The Travis County Democratic Party also came out against the proposal, encouraging council members to reject it.
After the council did just that, APA members voted not to continue negotiating, at least until the new city manager is in place and up to speed. That decision sealed the fate of the current contract.
Four city council members — Alison Alter, Jimmy Flannigan, Ora Houston, and Ann Kitchen — released a statement Thursday saying they were “disappointed” the APA voted “to not extend the contract and discontinue contract negotiations until next spring.”
“The APA had the option of utilizing up to three months of extensions on the existing contract as a new contract was discussed,” the council members said.
In a statement the APA said it, too, was disappointed with the lack of an agreement, but put the blame on city council for rejecting a deal the organization said was agreed upon in good faith. “Our current contract does not allow for us to extend another 30 days,” the group said in the statement. “We remain committed to begin bargaining as soon as the new city manager is in place.”
Mayor Steve Adler and Mayor Pro Tem Kathy Tovo wrote in an open letter that the city council was faced with a tough choice of only being able to approve or reject the contract at the decisive meeting, and was unable to make a “single change to the proposed contract even if by working together we all could have made it better.” They suggested creating an interim contract that would have much of the current contract stay in place until a final agreement could be reached.
“In retrospect, it is apparent that the contract negotiation process — which resulted in choices that Council could not approve — was not fair to anyone, not the Police Association, not the community activists and leaders who organized, and not the City of Austin staff who worked hard on the negotiations,” Adler and Tovo wrote, adding they hoped to improve the process and involve the community in discussions before negotiations begin.
Assistant Chief Troy Gray said the current situation is a bump in the road, but that APD did just graduate 93 people from a police academy, and that they are prepared to serve the people of Austin.
“I can’t say it hasn’t affected moral at all, but I do believe our officers can rise above this,” Gray said.