Naked City

Watching the Detectives

The City Council-appointed Police Oversight Focus Group has been doing a whole lot of talking for the last two and a half months, and -- despite accomplishing little in the way of concrete resolutions -- it appears to be inching toward a set of recommendations, which it is slated to present to the council on Nov. 30.

The 10-member focus group was appointed by the council in June to determine whether Austin should form a citizen review board to oversee investigations into complaints filed against Austin Police Department officers. Board members say that whatever form the recommendations ultimately take, they will include proposals to enhance communication between police and citizens, improve citizen education about APD policies, and ensure that officers are continually retrained throughout their careers.

With just under two months to go -- the last POFG meeting is also on Nov. 30 -- members now agree that Austin needs something to improve relations between APD and citizens. To flesh out the specifics of their plan, the focus group spoke with two consultants who offered a range of suggestions. One, Ronald McCarthy, a 23-year veteran of the Los Angeles Police Dept., said that reducing the number of complaints against police officers requires better officer training. He suggested in-car video cameras, belt recorders, and less-than-lethal munitions (which aim to stop dangerous suspects without killing them) as ways to improve officer accountability and reduce excessive force complaints.

Several interested citizens, including seven-year APD veteran Carla Nickerson, who lives in central East Austin, outlined their visions of what a citizen review board should look like. "The community is convinced that [APD is] hiding something, that internal affairs is an insurmountable wall," Nickerson said. "I think we need compromise, and a conflict resolution team with some citizen involvement. We need more accountability. It's crucial that our community have better faith in us."

The task force will hold its next public hearing on Wednesday, Oct. 27, at 7pm in the auditorium of Huston-Tillotson College.

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