Naked City

King Probe May Soon Go On

On March 26, the city of Austin and the Austin Police Association finally -- or at least partially -- resolved their dispute over how to conduct an independent investigation when one is called for by Austin's police-oversight citizen review panel. Such a probe is pending into last year's shooting death of Sophia King, but the police union's grievance brought that process to a halt, adding more tension to that already controversial case.

The city argued that it could draft the "standard operating procedures" for such a probe without APA input, prompting a grievance from the union, which says the S.O.P.s were in fact an amendment to the union contract and thus required APA approval. Union President Mike Sheffield took the city to court and won an injunction putting the King probe on hold until the matter could go to arbitration.

Arbitrator Claude Ducloux ruled that the city is right but stressed the importance of working together. Accordingly, the two sides spent most of their time March 25 and 26 trying to craft a mutually acceptable outcome. "Yes, the city has the unilateral decision-making on this, but it is absolutely important that we collaborate and come up with an agreement that we can live with," said Sheffield. "Our hope is that if we negotiate in good faith, that this will set the tone as we start [new meet-and-confer] negotiations this June."

According to Assistant City Manager Laura Huffman, the city and the union are hoping for a final agreement some time this week that would address the remaining sticking point -- whether an independent investigator could compel police officers to submit to interviews beyond those they must conduct with APD's Internal Affairs Division. The city and union have long agreed that IAD interviews are to be kept confidential, since officers are required to submit to them and thus forfeit their Fifth Amendment rights. It's not clear whether an independent investigator would have the same right to compel officers and, if so, how the resulting information would be handled. Sheffield filed a second contract grievance regarding this issue; arbitrator Ducloux left the question open, pending the result of continued talks. "Our hope is that we'll agree on a second set of S.O.P.s and that the second grievance will be withdrawn," Huffman said.

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