Former APD Officer "Speaks"

Former Austin Police Officer Tim Enlow lashes out at the department's renewed campaign to conquer drug dealing, prostitution, and other crimes in the Rundberg area neighborhood.

Former APD Officer Speaks
Illustration By Doug Potter

Last week, former Austin Police Officer Tim Enlow sent an e-mail to Texas Monthly publisher Mike Levy in which he lashed out at APD's renewed campaign to conquer drug dealing, prostitution, and other crimes in the Rundberg area neighborhood -- an effort recently publicized in two Austin American-Statesman articles. The message appeared in one of Levy's infamous e-mail blasts to the local political glitterati, which often feature APD officer communiqués and complaints about the state of public safety in Austin. The APD and the District Attorney's office are teaming up with frustrated Rundberg residents and businesses to conquer crime, the Statesman reported.

In his e-mail, Enlow asserts that his August 2001 "indefinite suspension" (the civil service equivalent of termination) from APD had a "chilling rippling effect that directly affected many officers' decisions not to be as proactive in the war on drugs as they once had been." His suspension, he contends, sent a seriously mixed message to officers. "As many Officers have told me since then: 'Tim, it's just not worth it any more,'" he wrote. "'If they'll do it to you they'll do it to any of us. We take our calls (911 calls) and go about our business. The administration won't back us if we get into an incident chasing these drug dealers.'" Enlow's claims are backed by Mike Sheffield, president of the Austin Police Association police union, who says rank-and-file officers "absolutely" question APD's support of their actions on the streets. If they're right, how can officers in the Rundberg area -- or any other neighborhood -- be effective in ridding the neighborhood of crime if they feel APD would rather have them look the other way?

Enlow asserts that prior to his suspension, Eastside officers had made so many drug arrests that officers spent many nights with little to do. But a succession of baseless complaints against him and officers assigned to other police sectors, culminating in his suspension, halted their progress, he argues. "By the time the administration chose to target me I was one of the last hold outs among my friends on the force," Enlow wrote. "Most of them had given up trying to fight the war on drugs and now were more concerned with career survival. (Can you blame them when their entire livelihood was put at stake time and time again?)" Detailed APD drug arrest statistics were not readily available, but a 1998 commendation written by Sgt. David Field congratulates the Central East Austin command -- of which Enlow was a member -- for their record number of arrests: 1,313 over one year. Many of the arrests resulted from "officer-initiated calls," Fields noted; 473 were felony arrests, and of those, 221 were for "narcotics violations."

"These are the deeper issues NOBODY at APD wants to discuss out loud," Enlow continued. "It's talked about at every Choir practice (cop get-togethers), it's talked about when cops go to lunch, but it's the dirty little secret NO ONE wants to address out loud. The fear of retaliation is too great."

The department declined to comment on Enlow's e-mail accusations, in part, APD spokesman Paul Flaningan said, because Enlow's civil service arbitration is still pending. Another reason: APD policy prohibits public comment on Levy's e-mails. "We've set a precedent that we just don't do it," Flaningan said. "I mean, anybody can say anything they want in an e-mail."

The department is seeking outside help in resolving Rundberg crime because officers can't clean up the area alone, Flaningan said. "There hasn't been a lot of finger-pointing. It's just that the residents and business owners are coming together to help the department. The police alone aren't going to be the only ones doing it."

Enlow was fired in August 2001 based, officially, on a "failure to maintain an impartial attitude," and for making arrests while he was off-duty -- which is strictly regulated by the department's general orders. The charges stemmed from a March 2001 arrest he made while working off-duty security at the Fiesta grocery on 381/2 Street. After spotting two nervous-looking, African-American teenagers getting into a late model Ford F-150 pickup, Enlow stopped the teens under the mistaken assumption that a burned out light on the truck gave him cause to follow them. He discovered the truck had been reported stolen, and that the glove box contained 11 rocks of crack cocaine. The driver was charged with evading arrest, but neither he nor his friend was charged with drug possession.

During his lengthy IA interview, Enlow implied in passing that two teens driving such a new truck was suspicious. But his civil service disciplinary memo, prepared by Chief Stan Knee, suggests that Enlow stopped the truck because the teens were black. For his part, Enlow told the Chronicle that the totality of the circumstances, not race, led him to stop the truck. His termination memo ascribes Enlow's suspension to his failure to follow APD's General Orders limiting off-duty actions (the off-duty Enlow should not have taken police action against the teenagers, it said), not racial profiling. Yet shortly after Enlow's firing, Knee told the Statesman, "We believe in building trust with the community, and when officers engage in racial profiling, it has a very negative impact on building trust. So those incidents are viewed very seriously." At the time of the arrests, the APD didn't have an actual racial profiling policy on the books.

Enlow's arbitration hearing, twice rescheduled, is set for Sept. 17-24.

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