AUSTIN, TX — Austin police officers have exactly two weeks to decide whether or not they will keep hashing out a new contract with the city.
Austin Police Association board members already said in a poll they don’t want to negotiate any further at this time. On Sunday and Monday, officers will be polled on whether they want to, and a decision will be made from there.
If the association chooses not to continue current negotiations, APD will go back to operating under the state’s basic civil service regulations. APA President Ken Casaday says officers worry that if that happens, they’ll lose some of their pay and benefits.
Only two days after city council members decided not to move forward with the contract as it was, Casaday says five officers have already put in for retirement, and he expects more to do so in the coming days.
“We’re expecting somewhere between 25 and 50 to leave,” Casaday said. Almost 150 current officers are eligible to retire by the end of December.
Retirements aside, Casaday warns that if APD turns back into a simple civil service department, “You could see officers leaving here that are young officers going to other departments that are very supportive of their officers, like Fort Worth.”
Without a contract, Casaday says the city will see more expenses from the department.
“We will just have to cover patrol shifts with overtime or moving detectives out of detective bureaus to cover patrol,” he said.
“It’s absolutely not ideal,” said APD Police Chief Brian Manley. “It’s not where I want us to be as a department, because we can’t provide our best level of service.”
Chief Manley says he hopes his officers will stay because they want to serve — and serve in Austin. “That’s just the decision each and every one of them needs to make, and I’ll respect the decisions that each one of them make,” he said.
Casaday says even if the APA chooses not to move forward now, negotiations could be revisited at any point in the future.
“Once we get a new city manager and that city manager gets to get their feet under them, then that’s the time that I think is probably the best time to go back and try to fix this contract,” Casaday said.
Austin’s new city manager could be announced Tuesday.
Sticking point over the Citizen Review Panel
Austin having a six person Citizen Review Panel is one of the few outlines the public has inside the police department. However, after a report by the Texas Criminal Justice Coalition explaining how the panel has no essentially no power to impact policy, activists wanted a change.
The problem, says Chris Harris with Grassroots Leadership, in his view, is for years APD took those recommendations right to the trashcan. The city council rejected the contract and his group called on them to do so. He wants that citizen board to be able to launch investigations, subpoena officers and possibly punish those who they believe crossed the line.
“These reports are not really helpful in tackling individual issues,” said Chris Harris, with Grassroots Leadership. “Right now they are completely reliant upon the investigation conducted by other police so really the police are policing themselves and our civilian review panel just get to look over their shoulder and see what they did.”
“I think it’s a waste of time. To me, subpoena power will do them no good. It just wouldn’t,” said Casaday.
Asking for subpoena power for the civilian review panel has gone nowhere in the past. Positions on the citizen review panel are politically appointed and law enforcement is wary to have amateur investigators watching over their backs.
Casaday liked what was in the proposed contract.
“It’s the most transparent thing in the state and that’s the only thing I can say. It’s by far, I mean, by leaps and bounds,” said Casaday.
This disagreement will continue into whatever the talks between the city and the association turn into.