The Austin Police Oversight Act (APOA) creates a local ordinance that strengthens the external civilian oversight of Austin police, greatly improves the transparency of Austin police, and mandates that the City can only approve a police contract if it complies with this ordinance.

What are the goals of the Austin Police Oversight Act?

  1. Deter police brutality and misconduct by better ensuring that this behavior becomes known to the community and results in on-the-job discipline.
  2. Create a consistent oversight and transparency system that the Austin Police Association can’t keep weakening through contract negotiations and grievances.
  3. Stop the Austin Police Association from using our civil rights as a bargaining chip in contract negotiations for more pay.

How does the Austin Police Oversight Act strengthen oversight?

  1. Empowers the City’s Office of Police Oversight (OPO) to access all police records, gather evidence and interview witnesses. The current Austin police contract explicitly prohibits the OPO or anyone other than police from gathering evidence or interviewing witnesses, and this language was used to overturn the powers of our existing system. The APOA ensures that not only will the OPO have access to all of the police records they need, it will allow the OPO to ensure that all legitimate complaints are investigated thoroughly and in a timely manner.
  2. Empowers the OPO to make discipline recommendations that drive transparency. While state law requires the Police Chief to continue to make the decision about whether to reprimand, suspend or fire an officer, the APOA will allow the OPO to make a recommendation that the Police Chief must respond to publicly, and if the OPO recommends disciplining an officer, then information about the incident will be posted publicly.
  3. Empowers the Community Police Review Commission (CPRC) to access and share information more freely. The CPRC is a group of civilians that are not city employees that have the ability to provide oversight of Austin police, but the current Austin police contract severely restricts their access to information, limiting their effectiveness. The APOA enables the CPRC members unfettered access to information and allows them more freedom to provide oversight.

How does the Austin Police Oversight Act improve transparency?

  1. Ends the practice of keeping police personnel records secret forever. The current Austin police contract keeps secret forever all records related to conduct that is NOT disciplined. This provides an incentive for the police department to NOT discipline officers, even when warranted, in order to keep the records about the incident secret . Under the APOA, the accessibility of these personnel records would align with Sheriff departments and most other police departments.
  2. Empowers the OPO to make discipline recommendations that drive transparency. While state law requires the Police Chief to continue to make the decision about whether to reprimand, suspend, or fire an officer, the APOA will allow the OPO to make a recommendation that the Police Chief must respond to publicly, and if the OPO recommends disciplining an officer, then the files about the incident will be posted publicly.
  3. Ensures that the OPO and the CPRC can access all of the police records they require. Both entities that provide oversight of the Austin police currently struggle to consistently access the police records they need in a timely manner due to the Austin police contract and policies. The APOA ensures the OPO and CPRC members have unfettered access to information and allows them more freedom to provide oversight.

How does stronger oversight and improved transparency increase accountability?

Strengthened oversight helps ensure that legitimate complaints are investigated thoroughly and quickly enough to result in discipline, when warranted. While Austinites retain a fairly unique ability to submit anonymous online complaints about Austin police, those complaints, even when deemed legitimate by the OPO, often don’t result in investigations. Even when an investigation occurs, only other police officers can conduct them, and they’re too often not conducted thoroughly or fast enough to result in discipline even for proven misconduct and brutality. By ensuring better investigations into allegations against police, strong oversight increases police accountability.

Improved transparency ensures that the facts about an incident become public, even if a poor investigation, the Police Chief, or an officer appeal prevents formal discipline. While formal discipline in the form of a reprimand, suspension or firing is the primary form of accountability the City can impart, making information about complaints and incidents public prevents the secrecy that allows misconduct and brutality to continue unabated. It’s much more difficult to maintain a system of impunity if all of the information sees the light of day.

How does increasing accountability deter police brutality and misconduct?

If officers know that they’ll face discipline for brutality and misconduct, our hope is that they’ll do it less. If officers know that facts about brutality and misconduct will always be made public, our hope is that they’ll do it less.

How would the Austin Police Oversight Act work?

Prior to any City Council action to approve any proposed agreement affecting Austin Police Department personnel, the City Attorney shall certify whether or not the proposed contract is consistent with and fulfills each provision of the APOA.

If the City Attorney finds that a proposed agreement violates the APOA, the City Council won’t be able to vote to adopt the agreement. This ordinance does not void any contract in effect at the time it goes into effect.