PSEM: City Coy About Coy report

In wake of public release of assessment report of city's Public Safety and Emergency Management forces, officials announce Park Police Chief Darryl Lewis will step down to division manager, but dance around saying much else

The pending City Hall controversy over whether to consolidate the airport police, parks police, and city marshals – merged last August into a department called "Public Safety and Emergency Management," or PSEM – into the much larger Austin Police Department, claimed its first administrative casualty last week. In the wake of the public release of an assessment report of the PSEM forces by retired Assistant Police Chief Rick Coy, officials announced that Park Police Chief Darryl Lewis will be stepping down to accept a position as a "division manager" in the parks department. The Coy report briefly mentions a pending internal complaint and an ongoing investigation of Lewis by APD's Internal Affairs Department, though it doesn't provide any details. Assistant City Manager Rudy Garza said, "I'm not going to tell you it was just a coincidence" that Lewis changed jobs a day after the release of the report. But he added that Lewis, who has worked for the city for more than 20 years, had been requesting a job change for several months, and after the PSEM merger only stayed on temporarily at Garza's request.

The Chronicle acquired a copy of the Coy report last Wednesday, and the following day published it online. The report on the merged agencies was completed in March at Garza's request, even while new PSEM Chief Bruce Mills (formerly head of the airport police) had been, according to Garza, correcting "about 90%" of the problems identified in Coy's report. Garza said he asked the retired Coy to analyze the merged departments to avoid any impression of favoritism in the review – parks officers in particular were concerned that Mills might favor the airport police over the other two services. Coy describes several problems across the board, including training, equipment, and budgetary deficiencies, but identifies the most serious problems with the park police, including too few officers, inadequate training, insufficient equipment, and "a lack of trust with the disciplinary process." On the equipment issue, for example, Coy mentions a shortage of items ranging from flashlights to shotguns, adding, "Some officers purchase their own shotguns and AR15s." (He doesn't address why the officers might believe they need semiautomatic assault rifles to patrol the parks.)

On the subject of officer review and discipline, the report notes that PSEM officers are not subject to civil-service rules or similar disciplinary procedures, and Coy recommends the implementation of a disciplinary review board.

According to Coy, the internal complaint filed against Chief Lewis had been unresolved since 2004, and "There were several serious allegations that, after investigation, appeared to have merit." He mentions another "videotaped incident" involving Lewis (without further explanation) brought to the attention of Parks Director Warren Struss. According to Coy, allegations against Lewis were referred to APD's Internal Affairs Department, but because IA is backlogged with its own cases, as of March 23 (the date of the report) "no final conclusion has been made on this case and there has been no documented final disposition. … This has created some mistrust and some morale issues."

Garza says that, while he has not had a chance to review Lewis's personnel file, he believes any disciplinary issues actually had been resolved months before Coy wrote his report. "Some allegations were sustained," Garza said – although he couldn't be more specific – "and some were dropped because of lack of evidence." According to Garza, whatever the disciplinary issues were, "They weren't enough to jeopardize [Lewis'] position," nor to prevent him from taking on a new managerial assignment in the parks department. Garza said he plans to make that information publicly available in due course. He says he's unsure of Lewis' new title, but that he will still work on park security and safety issues, and, more specifically, will be coordinating civilian or volunteer park security programs. That plan corresponds to at least one of Coy's recommendations: "the utilization of civilian personnel be considered in the same manner in which the Austin Police Department manages the Downtown Ranger program."

According to Garza, Chief Mills has already corrected – or at least addressed – most of the problems identified in the Coy report. For example, "The park officers are no longer providing coverage outside the parks," except for critical incident response, he said, "and they're not doing any traffic stops," both issues raised by Coy. Garza said Chief Mills has confirmed that, as the report indicates, (based on "dispatched calls") APD currently covers 65% of park calls, "although I'm not certain if that figure includes calls answered by both APD and park officers."

Garza said he intends, as soon as possible, to provide City Council with an itemized report on the city's response to Coy's recommendations. Last month, Council directed the city manager to prepare a feasibility study of merging the PSM departments directly into APD; that study is expected in early August. Coy does not specifically address consolidation, although he does raise questions about inequities among the departments in standards, training, and pay scales. Garza said he also plans to review Lewis' personnel file, and to talk to Coy about any misunderstandings over what pending matters have or have not been resolved.

Coy Report: Recommendations

Retired Assistant Chief of Police Rick Coy submitted his "Assessment Report for Airport Police, Park Police and City Marshals" to Assistant City Manager Rudy Garza on March 23. He reviewed "the procedures, policies, training, staffing, supervision, management, equipment and overall effectiveness of each department," by means of "personal knowledge and experience … personal interviews with individuals associated with each department, personal observations, reviews of policies, procedures and related documents."

Coy made 22 formal recommendations, of varying priority. The major ones are listed below. ACM Garza is preparing his own report for the City Council, on the city's response to the recommendations.

Create a public information officer for the PSEM.

Create a training coordinator for the PSEM.

Assign a trained officer to conduct major investigations of complaints against PSEM officers.

Create consistent procedures for issuing equipment and clothing; review equipment needs (in-car cameras, microphones, flashlights, batteries, shotguns) for park police.

Provide firing range availability/practice for PSEM officers.

APD should investigate critical incidents involving PSEM officers.

Allow lateral transfers within PSEM.

Create a baseline pay standard, including stipends for specialized training and duties.

Clarify roles and duties among departments and with APD officers.

City marshals should serve warrants not singly but in pairs.

Consider mental health training and certification for all park police (only eight of 48 now).

Staff park police boats with two officers, not one.

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Coy reportPSEM, Austin Police Department, Darryl Lewis, Public Safety and Emergency Management, City Council, Rudy Garza, Bruce Mills, Park Police, PSEM

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