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APD: Complaints Decrease, Disciplinary Actions Increase

Police monitor releases annual report

By Jordan Smith, 1:16PM, Mon. Jul. 23, 2012

APD: Complaints Decrease, Disciplinary Actions Increase

Beginning next month, any time Austin Police ask for consent to search an individual during a stop – traffic, cyclist, or pedestrian – they will be required not only to get audio and video of the consent, but also consent in writing, after explaining that the person has the right to refuse the search, APD Chief Art Acevedo said last week.

The announcement came during a press conference attended by both the chief and Police Monitor Margo Frasier, during which Frasier discussed the findings contained in her office's annual report.

According to the report, during traffic stops, one out of every eight African-Americans last year was subject to a search, a rate that far outpaced the number of searches of white drivers, which was one in 28, according to the report. Despite that disparity, there was no greater likelihood that contraband would be found on black drivers, Frasier reports. Indeed, the "hit rate" for searches of white, Hispanic, and black drivers was roughly 20%, or one in five, reads the report.

While there are different reasons for searches – an arrest, for example, with probable cause – consent searches can occur when an officer has no legal obligation to search but simply asks for permission to do so. Keeping a close eye on such searches is an important part of ensuring that no "stereotyping or profiling or fishing" is going on, Acevedo said, and he wants to be sure that residents "understand their rights." In this way, citizens play a key role as the "eyes and ears not just for the police department but for the community" at large, he said.

Overall, the total number of complaints filed with Frasier's office last year declined, though formal complaints – those sent to Internal Affairs for investigation – increased by 28, yielding 344 filed complaints, half of which were filed internally by other police officers. The number of "supervisory inquiries" – complaints monitored by the monitor's office that are given to an officer's sergeant for review and further action, if necessary – declined 15% last year, for a total of 373 complaints. In all, just 53 complaints – including formal and supervisory inquiries, involved use-of-force issues, a small number considering the large number of contacts police have with residents each year, Frasier said. Of those, 20 complaints were filed internally.

As usual, the majority of complaints that were sustained were those made by other officers. Last year 83% of complaints lodged by other officers were sustained, compared to just 20% of those that were brought by members of the public. Nonetheless, the number of sustained public complaints increased last year from just 11% that were sustained in 2010. The number of officers given days off as a result of complaints made by colleagues increased 35% last year; in all, 272 disciplinary actions – from oral reprimand to termination – resulted from internal complaints filed last year. By contrast, just 43 disciplinary actions were taken as a result of outside complaints, though that total was nearly double the number of actions (24) taken in 2010.

A copy of the report is here.

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