Oversight 101

An Introduction to Austin's new police oversight process

On February 9, when APD Chief Stan Knee and APA President Mike Sheffield shook their meaty paws on the Meet and Confer Agreement, aides handed out copies of the contract, which included an absurdly complex flow chart outlining "POFG Proposed Complaint Process (revised)." It's that "revised" part that's caused all the trouble, of course, but in any case, here's how the oversight process will actually work:

1. You file a complaint against a police officer. You do this by going to the new Police Monitor, who enters it into a database and forwards it to APD Internal Affairs Division. If you work for APD, this process is reversed, and the Monitor gets a copy of your complaint for statistical input. An IAD investigator then gets a sworn statement from you with the Monitor in attendance. (However, this statement can be used against you in court, if you're both victim and alleged perp, as many targets of police abuse are. That's not true of officers' compulsory statements to IAD.)

2. Internal Affairs investigates. The Monitor may be present during interviews, but may not "interfere" and can be bounced by IAD for doing so. The accused officer can view -- but not copy or take notes from -- the IAD files before his or her disciplinary hearing.

3. The Disciplinary Review Board hears the case. The Monitor can be present at the hearing of the DRB, whose members mirror the officer's chain of command, and can also meet with the IAD commander or an assistant chief to discuss the investigation findings.

4. The Chief of Police decides what to do.

  • If the complaint is sustained, the officer can either accept discipline, appeal via the civil-service process, or go to binding arbitration. Either way, the case is then closed. The complainant gets an explanatory letter.

  • If the chief doesn't sustain the complaint, the Monitor can confer with the complainant and decide whether the Police Review Panel should get to hear the case.

    5. The Police Review Panel: All unsustained complaints involving death or serious injury go to the PRP. The Monitor can also send a complaint to the PRP if it suggests a pattern of misconduct by APD or its officers, the appearance of racially motivated misconduct or official corruption, or "issues to be addressed by policy recommendations." Before sending a case on to the PRP, the Monitor must meet with department brass.

    The seven-member PRP, chaired by the nonvoting Monitor, has limited access to the IAD file. The PRP is briefed by the monitor in private and in the presence of reps from both IAD and the APA board of directors. It can also accept public input, and only those portions of its meetings will be open and recorded. The PRP has several avenues for asking that a case be reopened:

  • The PRP can make a recommendation that the chief reconsider his decision based on the facts already established.

  • The PRP can also -- if five members agree -- request that IAD reopen the investigation.

  • If the case involves death in police custody, excessive force, an officer-involved shooting, or a civil rights violation, the PRP can request an independent investigation (again, with five votes). This requires the approval of either the chief or the city manager.

  • If the investigations uncover new information -- or if IAD, the chief, or the city manager refuse the PRP's request -- the panel gets a second review and then makes its recommendation to the chief.

    6. Back to the Chief: If the chief changes his mind and sustains the complaint, the officer gets the same range of options outlined above: accept discipline, appeal through civil service, or submit to binding arbitration. (The officers' lawyers cannot subpoena the Monitor or members of the PRP to testify in a civil service or arbitration proceeding.)

  • If the chief doesn't change his mind, the case is closed.

    The Police Monitor

    The Monitor must have a law degree and eight years of practice, as well as familiarity with criminal law and experience in public sector employment law. He or she would also have a staff consisting of an assistant and a community liaison. The Meet and Confer proposed a $619,000 budget for the Monitor's office, which would be directly under the city manager, not part of APD.

    The Monitor would be on the APD "ring-down" list of people contacted when "critical incidents" occur -- i.e., somebody gets killed or wounded. But the Monitor "may not interfere with the investigation, talk to the officers involved, take witness statements, or obtain evidence in any form," and when at the scene "shall not advise or encourage any person to file a complaint."

    The Police Review Panel

    Members of the PRP -- appointed by the city manager, which he's promised to do from a pool referred by City Council, and reflecting the "social, geographic, and economic diversity" of the city -- serve for up to two two-year staggered terms. They may not have convictions, deferred adjudications, or indictments on felony charges. Training will consist of a two-to-three-day mini-course from the Police Academy, ride-alongs in each of Austin's six police sectors, and an orientation by IAD. Since current APD procedure requires that complaints against officers be resolved within 180 days, the PRP will meet monthly and could be very busy.

    Changing the Process

    Changes to this process that "do not affect an officer's substantive rights" can be made with the unanimous approval of the Monitor, the chief of Police, and a majority vote of the APA board. "Substantive" changes have to go into Meet and Confer. Questions about interpreting this plan are likewise to be resolved by agreement of Monitor, chief, and APA president.

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    police oversight, APD, Police Monitor, Internal Affairs Division, IAD, Police Review Panel, city manager, Meet and Confer

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