The Austin Chronicle

Cop Vs. Cop?

By Jordan Smith, June 21, 2002, News

"A simple case of human resources reallocation, or a case of blatant retaliation?" is the question that has tongues wagging over at the Austin Police Department. According to a notice posted June 13 on the Web site of the Austin Police Association, the union that represents the majority of Austin's officers, APD Chief Stan Knee has ordered Association President Mike Sheffield to return to regular detective duties. Sheffield, who has served as APA president full time since the 40-hour week position was incorporated into the officers' last contract, will now split his work week in half: 20 hours as a detective with the department's Sex Offender Apprehension and Registration unit, and 20 hours as union honcho.

The current police contract allows Knee to call Sheffield back for duty, but many officers are crying foul. The move is less about taking up workload slack, they say, and more about silencing officer dissent for administrative decisions.

Under ordinary circumstances, the assignment might not be so controversial. But in light of recent events, it appears to be one of the more politically nearsighted moves of the week. Just three weeks ago, Sheffield challenged Knee to order a full administrative investigation of long-standing allegations of internal corruption and retaliation against officers who reported other APD officers' illegal actions during 1997's joint-federal "Mala Sangre" case (see "Still Bleeding," May 31). And just two weeks ago, Sheffield said Knee should have to testify in court regarding another set of allegations, that the department enforces disparate disciplinary sanctions ("Will Stan Take the Stand?," June 14).

"I've always been a police officer first," Sheffield said. "So when Chief Knee advised me that he needed someone to do the job and felt like I was available, he assigned me to do it." And while Sheffield is sanguine about his transfer ("Obviously I'm not going to question his motives. I just accept it at face value and do the job the best I can."), others in the department and the APA are bristling.

"If all they need is 20 hours a week, I would think they could find it somewhere else," said APA Southwest Area Command Board Representative T.J. Vineyard. "I can't believe they need him nearly as much as the association. ... You really give up a lot if you are asked to give up 20 hours on that job." As president, Vineyard added, Sheffield plays an integral role as a voice for rank-and-file officers, particularly those on patrol. "Take [the June 11 Sofia King shooting] for example," he said. "He hasn't been available to make a necessary statement, to stand up and represent the officers. Those aren't things you can just put off a couple days."

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