The Austin Chronicle

New Year, New Police Union President

Michael Bullock assumes union leadership at turbulent time

By Austin Sanders, January 5, 2024, News

The new year will bring change to the leadership of the Austin Police Association, the labor union that represents the majority of the Austin Police Department's rank-and-file officers.

Michael Bullock was elected APA's next president in November, but he didn't officially take office until Jan. 1. He is much less experienced as an officer than most APA presidents (he's been on the force six years compared to the nearly two decades of experience his two most recent predecessors had), and at 33, he's also much younger than most of the recent association leaders.

Now that he's sworn in, Bullock – who was born and raised in Austin – hopes to make progress on the recruitment and retention challenges that APD has faced for the past several years, as well as improve the relationships between stakeholders the department has to work with, like City Council and the District Attorney's Office.

Communication will be key to achieving all of those goals. "We all have the same priority, which is keeping Austin safe," Bullock told the Chronicle. "I'm willing to work with anyone on that goal, and I want everyone to know we are ready and willing to be a part of the conversation."

With staffing, he hopes to communicate to prospective APD officers and to the general public the realities of what it's like to patrol the streets of Austin. With Council, he hopes to reopen the lines of communication between offices and the APA that have mostly gone silent over the past five years to improve the working relationship between the elected representatives of the city's rank-and-file officers and everyone else living in the city.

But that doesn't mean negotiations over a new, long-term labor contract between the city and the APA are likely to resume anytime soon. Bullock, like most others around City Hall, doesn't think that will happen until Equity Action's lawsuit over implementation of the Austin Police Oversight Act is resolved.

Mending the relationship with the D.A.'s Office will be much more difficult, Bullock said. Like many within the law enforcement community, Bullock views the charges brought against officers by D.A. José Garza (and approved by Travis County grand juries) as politically motivated attacks on police officers. The fact that Garza has now dropped many of those indictments – mostly those stemming from the 2020 Black Lives Matter protests – doesn't help erase that sentiment.

"I don't know what that relationship will look like in 2024," Bullock said after a long pause. "I am here to work with them ... but it's up to the D.A. to help set a new tone for the relationship." How might the invitation extended to the Department of Justice by Mayor Kirk Watson and Garza to investigate APD for patterns of civil rights violations affect that relationship? Bullock welcomes the investigation, but says it should be more focused on the decisions made by APD leadership rather than individual officers. For example: former police Chief Brian Manley's decision to waive the requirement that officers write use-of-force reports during the most intense two-day period of the 2020 protests, which some believe contributed to overall weaker cases against the officers indicted for conduct during that period and thus necessitated dismissal of the charges against them.

Bullock's four-year term has just begun but will overlap with a series of consequential moments for the department: a potential DOJ investigation, the likely reelection of D.A. Garza, the swearing in of a new Council in 2025, and, somewhere along that timeline, negotiation of a new labor contract.

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