Signs of Calm in APD Crisis
As the community crisis surrounding the Austin Police Department continues, this week saw some signs of cooling off but also more expressions of dissatisfaction and outrage. The latest:
The Austin Police Association and city officials are, officially, heading back to the bargaining table this week likely tomorrow to resume contract negotiations. A joint press release issued late on Feb. 20 explains that city officials and members of the APA had a meeting that day "in which both sides freely expressed their concerns."
Presumably, they're referring to concerns that led to the nasty blowout earlier this month, when the union walked away from talks after Austin Police Chief Stan Knee handed Officer Scott Glasgow a 90-day suspension as discipline for, Knee said, Glasgow's violating two policies during his fatal June 14 encounter with Jessie Lee Owens. Union officials said they were upset that the suspension was politically motivated and proved that the chief and city leaders were weak-willed and would not stand by Austin's officers.
The reconciliation came just three days before a memorandum of understanding, which extended the union's previous "meet and confer" labor contract, was set to expire. Union spokeswoman Lt. Kim Nobles said the APA has signed a final 30-day contract extension, through March 23, in order to give the two sides enough time to work out the final provisions of a new contract. Nobles said the tone of the Friday meeting assuaged the union's concerns. "We feel pretty positive that there is good faith," she said. "We all want what's best for everyone, and we all want to come away winners, and we especially want the community to be a winner. That is our primary focus."
Meanwhile, the family of Sophia King, who was killed June 11, 2002, by APD Officer John Coffey, on Feb. 23 withdrew the wrongful death suit they filed against the city of Austin and Coffey in the wake of her shooting. According to the family's attorney Jim Harrington, executive director of the Texas Civil Rights Project, the family "non-suited" their cause of action for "tactical" reasons. However, Harrington wrote in a press release that the withdrawal does not mean the suit will not be refiled some time before the second anniversary of King's death. Instead, he wrote, the potentially temporary withdrawal "allows all the parties a period of quiet in which to try to resolve the issues at stake without the pressure of pressing court deadlines." The move comes just over a week after the APD finally released the complete report of its homicide investigation into King's death (see After 18 Months, APD Releases Report on King Shooting, Feb. 20).
On Feb. 21, nearly 300 people joined the Baptist Ministers Union march from APD Headquarters to City Hall to call attention to concerns that African-Americans in Austin are discriminated against by police and city leaders and have unequal access to economic and educational opportunities. The BMU compiled a list of community concerns from surveys collected at area churches and a list of demands and recommendations. The concerns included claims that Austin police "don't care enough" about East Austin communities, that too many "inexperienced" officers are assigned to patrol east of I-35, that Austin's black "contractors and professionals" don't get their "fair share" of city contracts, and that gentrification in East Austin is displacing portions of the community. The union is demanding that city leaders address these concerns and are calling for an "immediate end to APD's use of unnecessary force and racial profiling" and a stronger civilian oversight system, with a citizen review panel that reports directly to city officials, has the power to subpoena witnesses and documents, and is authorized to mete out discipline for errant officers.