Choose Your Monitor: The Four Finalists

Candidates to be Austin's next police monitor speak out

The four finalists to be the new City of Austin Police Monitor (Photos by Jana Birchum)

The four finalists to become Austin's next police monitor appeared Tuesday afternoon at a public meeting. City Manager Marc Ott is expected to pick a new monitor from among the four sometime later this month. Below is a sketch of each candidate and what they had to say during the afternoon meeting, and an earlier meet-and-greet with reporters.

Cristina Beamud (Photo by Jana Birchum)
Cristina Beamud:

The only out-of-towner, Beamud has served as monitor in Eugene, Ore., and in Atlanta, GA., where she is currently employed. She previously worked as a prosecutor and before that as a police officer in Rochester, NY, in the late 1970s.

Beamud said that she has had a bumpy experience working with the police union in Atlanta, where the monitor system is actually investigatory. That is, instead of the monitor's office observing and reviewing investigations done by the police department's Internal Affairs division – as happens in Austin – the monitor instead conducts an entire investigation from start to finish. She acknowledged difficulty with the police union, which she said would probably say that she has been too beholden to the 11-member citizen board made up of people who know little about actual police work. In fact, she said, the union there is in the process of commissioning a study to determine if a different form of oversight – an auditing model, akin to that in Eugene – might be a better form of outside monitoring.

Knowing that she'd be coming from outside Austin, Beamud said that she would have to pay close attention to outreach and in learning the community. One way of increasing community outreach might be to move Citizen Review Panel meetings to different locations across Austin, which is something she said she did in Eugene. Beamud said she is interested in coming to Austin in part because she believes "there is more support for this system" of oversight in Austin.

You can review Beamud's resume here.

Margo Frasier (Photo by Jana Birchum)

Margo Frasier:

Frasier is well-known as the former Travis Co. Sheriff, who led the department for seven years. Frasier also has a law degree and worked as an instructor at Sam Houston State University in Huntsville before returning to Austin in 2008, where she has been working as an associate with MGT of America, Inc., a public sector consultant group.

Frasier notes that she's "spent all of my life, frankly, evaluating police conduct," and she believes that makes her uniquely qualified to become the next police monitor. "I spent the last 36 years of my life getting ready to hold this position," she told the afternoon forum. Frasier began her law enforcement career in corrections while still in college, and went on to work her way up through the TCSO ranks, from deputy to captain. She left in 1982, completed law school and eventually returned to become TCSO sheriff in 1997.

With that experience, Frasier said she would be able to review citizen (as well as APD-generated) complaints of excessive use-of-force with a practiced eye; she would know not only the legal standards, but also what questions should be asked and answered to achieve a just result. "One of the monitor's main jobs [is to] audit and monitor [these] investigations," she said.

The monitor's office "can be more user-friendly," she said. One thing she's noticed, in reviewing the OPM statistics, is the number of people who call to make a complaint but then who "drop out of the process," she said. "We need to figure out why: Is it too onerous?" or are there other things at issues. Perhaps the office hours need to be reworked – with the office open after regular work hours or one Saturday each month – or perhaps the office location needs to be made more convenient to where the majority of complaints are generated. For example, she noted, Hispanic residents are under-represented in the number of complaints made compared to population. That means one of two things, she said: "Either the police department is doing such a good job with the Hispanic community that we need to duplicate [that work] everywhere [in the city] or – because what we know is that's probably not accurate – we're somehow not getting" the word out to the Hispanic community that the city has a monitor to handle citizen complaints about police.

Frasier said that she knows that not everybody agreed with everything she did as sheriff, but that she hopes everyone would agree that she's was responsive to the community she served: "I would venture to guess that not everybody in the room would agree with everything I did as sheriff," she said, "but would agree that I was respectful and had an open door" policy for the community.

You can review Frasier's resume here.

Ann del Llano (Photo by Jana Birchum)

Ann del Llano:

Del Llano is the only finalist who was actually involved in the discussions that eventually led to the development of the office. As a member of the Police Oversight Focus Group in the late Nineties – a group that included police officers and community leaders (among them former Austin Police Association President Mike Sheffield and former Mayor Roy Butler) – del Llano notes that what the group thought might be best for the office isn't exactly what the office ended up becoming. (The group, for example, considered giving the office independent investigatory power, a power it does not now have.)

And although del Llano has been outspoken in the past with criticisms of the APD, she told reporters Tuesday that those criticisms come from support for the police – “I’m a police lover,” she declared – and a desire to see the department be the best it can be. That said, del Llano noted that the APD's most recent racial profiling report demonstrates that people with black skin are more likely to be stopped and searched and arrested by police than are whites. Moreover, she noted that people with black skin are far more likely to go to jail and prison. That says that something is wrong, she says, because "I do not believe that people with dark skin are more dangerous."

A motivator for del Llano's bid to be the next monitor is that she'll have a seat at the table for the APD officers' next meet-and-confer contract negotiations with the city and would have a chance to advocate for subpoena power for the monitor's office, if that is something that the city decides it wants, she said. Moreover, she said she believes that the monitor's office should use more of its resources to conduct research and to make recommendations on issues of police policy – as in discussions about and development of a "preservation of life" standard in the use-of-force policy. After all, she said, police have the power to kill and the power to protect, sometimes by offering their own lives, making policing the "most important piece of government" work.

You can review del Llano's resume here.

Renita Sanders (Photo by Jana Birchum)

Renita Sanders:

Sanders has served as an assistant police monitor under outgoing monitor Cliff Brown since October 2007. She said she believes that the office is actually on the right path and has made great progress since it was created nearly 10 years ago. She said that she has been and continues to be "really focused on outreach" to the community, which is "always our challenge."

Sanders has a law degree and is a certified mediator, but has never used her degree to practice law. Instead, she says she's been more focused on management and human resources issues, which has served her well in the monitor's office – and would continue to serve her well if she is selected to take over for Brown.

Sanders said that she was approached by "internal stakeholders" first and then by members of the community to apply for the monitor job. Sanders said she isn't sure that the office needs "subpoena power" to independently investigate complaints. That role would apply more to departments where there isn't internal buy-in and cooperation from the department's internal affairs officers, "but [APD's IA] works well" with the monitor's office. "I think if we did that" – go for subpoena power – "just because, we'd get push-back from APD," she said. "APD is working with us and if APD is not working with us, I'll be the first person to scream," she told community members.

Still, Sanders said that she would like to see the office begin a program of mediating complaints between residents and officers (for which it already has the authority), akin to successful mediation programs in New York City, Washington, D.C., and Oakland, Calif. These are cost-effective and can resolve many complaints in a face-to-face setting. She said she knows it would likely take some effort to get that program off the ground – "when you get mad [you don't necessarily] want to sit down in front of that officer" – but said that it can help foster better relationships between police and residents.

You can read Sanders' resume here.

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City Government, city hall, cops, Austin Police Department, city manager, police monitor, Margo Frasier, Renita Sanders, Ann del Llano, Cristina Beamud

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