(AUSTIN, Texas) — The Austin City Council has called a special meeting on Wednesday, December 13 at 3pm to consider the tentative agreement reached between City staff and the Austin Police Association (APA). One week prior to this special meeting, a statement signed by a growing list of more than 15 community and advocacy organizations and more than 100 community leaders has been released calling for a new vision of public safety in the city, beginning with an end to the meet-and-confer negotiations with the APA.
“Public safety is not just policing,” said Kenneth D. Thompson Sr., Chairman of the African American Resource Advisory Commission. “Public safety is community engagement and having the funds to do that makes us a healthier city.”
"Today we are united as civil rights, immigrant, criminal justice reform, education, legal, youth, and environmental groups and community leaders to call on the city to end the meet and confer process and reject this unjust contract,” said Bob Libal, executive director of Grassroots Leadership and one of the statement’s signatories. “The city has spoken and its important that City Council hear us."
The statement acknowledges the efforts by a coalition of local community and criminal justice advocacy organizations to improve the existing agreement. Few of the community recommendations were included in the draft recently agreed to by City Staff and the APA. This new deal continues to fail on the accountability metrics developed by the national police reform group Campaign Zero and, despite the resolution passed by the Travis County Democratic Party, remains nowhere close to the best practices outlined by President Obama’s Department of Justice.
The upcoming council vote comes amidst an ongoing national dialogue about police brutality and the role that police unions play in perpetuating it by preventing officer discipline, shielding police records and limiting civilian oversight. Austin’s police contract creates a Citizen Review Panel with too many limits and too little transparency, especially as compared to Citizen Review systems in other major cities.
“The Citizen Review Panel is a well intended body that lacks the power to improve the culture of the department,” says former Citizen Review Panel Member, Damaris Nicholson. “There is a great need to improve policing relationships in this city. As a city committed to achieving equity, we must act towards removing barriers for our citizens and create a more transparent process.”
Video of APA President Ken Casaday arguing against rule changes that would have allowed the Police Chief to discipline the officers that violently arrested and made racist remarks to Breaion King epitomizes the extent to which police unions will go to protect their own.
The statement also highlights the commitments made by the Austin City Council last year to better fund services that would reduce the need for community interactions with police and urges the Council vote against a new contract in order to free up the resources necessary to meet those commitments.
In its current state, the new contract would add $82.5 million to the Austin Police Department budget over the life of the deal. Austin's police are already the highest paid in the state and account for 40% of Austin’s discretionary budget. If City Council passes this contract, there would not be another meaningful opportunity to address the police budget for 5 years.
The statement concludes: "City Council must reject the upcoming contract with the Austin Police Association and begin to reallocate the millions made available to root-cause solutions to social problems that police can’t reasonably be expected to solve."