May 2023 Ballot Measure — Austin Police Oversight Act — Stabilizes and Strengthens Austin’s Civilian Oversight of Police

Equity Action spent the summer 2022 gathering more than 33,000 signatures for a ballot measure that will finally place our police oversight system in law. Our measure was “validated” in September — a “valid petition” has enough signatures to either go on the ballot or be enacted as a local law. On September 15, 2022 Austin City Council voted to put our ordinance on the May 2023 ballot. Volunteer for the campaign!

Find our Austin Police Oversight Explainer here!

If you still have questions, maybe our FAQ will answer them!

Full text of the proposal here!

We believe that police brutality and misconduct are wrong and that police officers found to have done so should be appropriately disciplined, even if the act is not a crime. We know that police brutality and misconduct continue to be serious problems in the City of Austin, in part because too often police in Austin aren’t held accountable.

For instance, despite paying out over $13 million in settlements to victims of police brutality during the 2020 protests, the City of Austin has not disciplined officers, including those indicted by a grand jury, for their conduct during those protests. Nor has the department issued discipline over the more than 100 examples of false arrest and excessive force cited by Kroll this spring after an audit of body camera video.

Anyone in customer service knows that their employer can and will issue discipline for a variety of infractions — maybe a reprimand, maybe they get taken off the schedule for a week, maybe worse. We believe that if officers knew that they’d face discipline for brutality and misconduct, they’d do it less. We believe that if officers knew that facts about police brutality and misconduct would always be made public, they would do it less.

We believe police shouldn’t police themselves and Austin police — like most major departments — require external oversight to ensure accountability. We believe more records about police brutality and misconduct should become publicly accessible and records should no longer be permanently sealed.

We know that a big reason police aren’t held accountable and more records aren’t made publicly accessible is that much of it is negotiated in a police contract. Over the course of several months in 2021, the police union filed dozens of grievances against the Office of Police Oversight and finally took one to arbitration. The arbitrator’s decision undid many of the gains made in 2017 and 2018, the historic period when City Council voted down a bad police contract and forced a better one.

That’s why we created the Austin Police Oversight Act. It sets out what our oversight system can do and prevents a police contract from undermining it. For example, the new ordinance will give the Office of Police Oversight:

  • unfettered access to body/dash camera video and 911 call audio,
  • the ability to pose questions to witnesses
  • the ability to identify additional witnesses who might have relevant information
  • the right to recommend whether an incident needs a full investigation based on its review of the evidence, and then participate in that investigation.

The Office of Police Oversight should be “eyes on the process” throughout the process. Civilian oversight systems like the one we propose work to improve accountability in cities all across America. It is so common that there is a national association of civilian oversight systems and a detailed history about what has worked. Our Act is based on a careful evaluation of such models as well as the historic role the OPO has played in Austin in recent years. We CAN pass this in Austin in May, and with your help we will!

Community Investment Budget

In collaboration with thirty one endorsing organizations, Equity Action joined in a 2023 Community Investment Budget that asked Austin City Council to commit to prioritizing inflation wage increases for city workers, higher wages to secure recruitment at EMS, emergency rental assistance to prevent evictions of those seeing untenable rent increases, social services for those already unhoused, increased park staffing, and much more.

Totaling about $100 million, this proposal represents a set of priorities for about 7.7% of general revenue and a vision for how the city should move forward in 2023. The coalition push in 2022 resulted in a major shift in the City Manager baseline budget, including higher wages for civilian employees and new money for emergency rental assistance. This year we expect Council and the Mayor to carefully review this proposal, created collaboratively with so many of our Austin community organizations, and urge the City Manager to fund these priorities in the baseline budget.

See the full proposal here.

In 2023, Equity Action intends to build an even bigger Community Investment Budget Coalition and continue to promote long overdue investments in public safety including higher wages for EMS and 911 call takers, an expanded program of Park Rangers in our 300+ parks, E-books for our library system to encourage reading in the digital generation and much more.