Oversight Board Calls Out Austin PD For Revamping Policies To Minimize Citizen Complaints

from the [PD-divests-trustworthiness] dept

The Austin (TX) police department barely avoided being hit with a DOJ consent decree a little over a decade ago. The sheer number of recommendations makes you wonder where the consent decree bar sits at the DOJ.

The U.S. Department of Justice has made 160 recommendations to improve Austin Police Department policies and procedures, as part of the ongoing federal investigation of department practices. APD Chief Art Acevedo said Jan. 5 that his department has implemented, or is in the process of implementing, the majority of the recommendations, outlined in a 50-page letter of "technical assistance" delivered to city officials late last month.

If the name Art Acevedo rings a bell, it's because he's now the head of another problematic police department. Acevedo runs the Houston Police Department -- now mostly known for being the home of corrupt cops, who strung together a bunch of lies to engage in a drug raid that resulted in the senseless killing of two residents.

The DOJ also recommended the APD make it easier for citizens to file complaints.

A majority of the DOJ recommendations involve policies governing police use of force. The DOJ also makes substantive suggestions on how citizen complaints should be classified and reviewed by Internal Affairs and recommendations that emphasize the need for comprehensive and ongoing police training.

The city did set up an Office of Police Oversight to facilitate the filing of complaints against police officers. The Office is supposed to provide a layer of independent oversight. But investigations are still performed by the Austin PD personnel, which makes this a bit of a closed loop.

Grits for Breakfast reports the Austin PD is looking to close the loop even further by revamping the complaint process. Nothing about the alterations will make it easier for citizens to file complaints or for the PD's independent overseers to, you know, actually oversee the process. Maybe it's just bureaucracy rather than malice, but the re-categorization of complaints seems geared towards making it more difficult for everyone (outside of the PD, that is) involved.

Without getting too deep into the weeds, the new orders… changed how complaints submitted to the OPO are classified by the department. Previously, there were three complaint categories at the OPO: formal complaints, supervisor referrals, and citizen concerns. Now, "citizen concerns" will be recorded as "external information," and may be closed by IA upon initial categorization with no investigation required.

Supervisor referrals, bizarrely, will now be categorized as "citizen concerns," while a new category called 'Minor Policy Violations' will now be labeled "supervisor referrals." Got that?

Finally, incoming complaints historically are categorized A, B, C, or D, depending on an initial assessment of their validity/severity by either IA or the officer's supervisor. Another big change is that only those classified A or B will now be considered "formal" complaints.

The weeds are indeed very deep. This nonsensical reclassification of complaints is listed towards the end of a 783-page PDF. (The section on "Administrative Investigations" starts at page 548.) The new designations seem designed to obscure the origin of the complaints and to facilitate the wrist-slapping of misbehaving officers.

This hasn't escaped the attention of the Office of Police Oversight. A letter [PDF] to the PD from its director, Farah Muscadin, calls the PD out for needlessly complicating the complaint review process.

The OPO asserts that this unnecessary change and filtering of complaint data will mislead the public and continue to feed a false narrative that complaints filed with the OPO against APD are not rigorously assessed. More importantly, it will leave complainants without any meaningful resolution or sense of procedural justice. Furthermore, the OPO contends that this new category is detrimental to the established process and attempts to minimize complaints from the public. The OPO recommends that “minor policy violations” continue to be handled through the OFCA process already outlined in APD policy.

And that's not all. It's more than just making the process complicated for the apparent purpose of making citizen complaints more difficult to identify and track. The PD also ignored recommendations from the oversight committee even though it specifically asked the Office of Police Oversight for its input. The letter points out the Department's Internal Affairs office has been particularly resistant to Oversight suggestions, refusing to sign a joint agreement that would have made the complaint process an actual collaboration between the OPO and APD. Instead, the PD has decided it can handle citizen complaints on its own without outside input. Without this, the APD becomes its own oversight and literally any police department in the nation can demonstrate why allowing law enforcement agencies to self-police is a terrible idea.

The Austin PD is not alone in its thwarting of its oversight. It's a longstanding law enforcement tradition that reaches all the way up to the agencies the DOJ directly oversees. That's a shame. But law enforcement agencies have proven themselves shameless. When given the opportunity to restore trust and repair relationships with the communities they serve, they opt for obfuscation and opacity almost every time.

Hide this

Thank you for reading this Techdirt post. With so many things competing for everyone’s attention these days, we really appreciate you giving us your time. We work hard every day to put quality content out there for our community.

Techdirt is one of the few remaining truly independent media outlets. We do not have a giant corporation behind us, and we rely heavily on our community to support us, in an age when advertisers are increasingly uninterested in sponsoring small, independent sites — especially a site like ours that is unwilling to pull punches in its reporting and analysis.

While other websites have resorted to paywalls, registration requirements, and increasingly annoying/intrusive advertising, we have always kept Techdirt open and available to anyone. But in order to continue doing so, we need your support. We offer a variety of ways for our readers to support us, from direct donations to special subscriptions and cool merchandise — and every little bit helps. Thank you.

–The Techdirt Team

Filed Under: austin, austin police department, citizen complaints, consent decree, doj


Reader Comments

Subscribe: RSS

View by: Time | Thread


  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 20 Apr 2020 @ 3:56pm

    Texas, finding new ways to oppress citizens all the time

    After Dallas police murdered the sniper suspect while they had him on the phone with a robot, I never thought TX could surprise me in its policies. Color me surprised the citizens haven't removed all of the problem officers with judicial use of personal weapons.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Upstream (profile), 20 Apr 2020 @ 4:40pm

    Police Oversight Boards Are a Joke

    In one way or another, the various attempts at creating some sort of police oversight organization have all been designed or implemented in such a way as to render the oversight organization completely useless.

    Frequently these boards are stacked in favor of the police, often with requirements that there be police representatives on the board, and that all members be approved in some way by the existing power structure. Both of these kinds of requirements are completely contrary to the entire concept of the boards: that they provide outside, objective oversight of the police.

    Giving these boards the power to compel testimony is a rarely taken step in the right direction, but their general lack of real legal power can render them completely toothless. And a lack of any defined consequences for defying the boards’ powers, whatever they may be, can render any powers they may have a moot issue. These boards should have complete, timely access to all police documents and records (including personnel records, reports, videos, and anything else), they should be able to hire outside investigators, subpoena witnesses, etc. If these powers sound similar to what a grand jury would have, it is because they should be.

    And, clearly these oversight boards should have the budget and facilities to implement their powers.

    Unfortunately, most of these boards do not have the appropriate makeup, powers, or budget to accomplish their stated goals. This makes them nothing more than sham paper tigers, created to give the illusion of oversight and accountability, but actually providing no such thing.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Anonymous Anonymous Coward (profile), 20 Apr 2020 @ 5:20pm

      Re: Police Oversight Boards Are a Joke

      Agreed, but we have a big problem in that I don't see a methodology for constituting such boards without significant issues. If appointed (I think the most usual way) the person doing the appointing is usually the head of the municipality, an elected official. People in these positions tend to be influenced in many ways, their political party, contributors, groups like police unions that have wide sway. If elected, the people running for the positions on the oversight board may be similarly influenced.

      Thinking about getting someone from outside the jurisdiction to do the appointing I am having a hard time coming up with any entity that would take the position of citizens. DoJ, no. Some court, they are sometimes elected or appointed and then approved through a politically compromised process. What other way could we get a board that has the citizens rights foremost in their consideration to give the powers you suggest to?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Paul B, 20 Apr 2020 @ 5:40pm

        Re: Re: Police Oversight Boards Are a Joke

        I could see a lotto system along with rules that people under the board can not be on the board. Set some baseline qualifications and pick 5 or 10 out of the pool of qualified applicants.

        Still not perfect but a community could easily get quite a few people who do not fall under the favor of the cops on the board this way.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • icon
          Upstream (profile), 20 Apr 2020 @ 6:24pm

          Re: Re: Re: Police Oversight Boards Are a Joke

          I wish I had suggestions for a good solution, but I don't. The baseline problem is the fact that we find ourselves in the position of needing a police oversight organization in the first place. Honest, ethical, law-abiding cops would render the whole concept moot. And it may be a better use of resources to try to solve the base problem than to find effective band-aids. Many in this space have pointed out a number of steps that could be taken to help solve the evil cop problem. Of course, the difficulty or impossibility of actually taking those steps, or getting the powers that be to take those steps, is what led us to the current discussion.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Pixelation, 20 Apr 2020 @ 5:55pm

    Right from the Trump playbook

    If you don't like the way things are, lie and tell everyone how great it is. Trump supporters eat that shit up daily.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    IP Block Test, 21 Apr 2020 @ 10:23am

    Art Acevedo and the occult

    Easy on Art. He is pro-Israel. Aint that good enough?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Norahc (profile), 21 Apr 2020 @ 12:21pm

    I guess they found one way to drive down the number of "citizen complaints" that they will be reporting to the DOJ

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


Add Your Comment

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here



Subscribe to the Techdirt Daily newsletter




Comment Options:

  • Use markdown. Use plain text.
  • Make this the First Word or Last Word. No thanks. (get credits or sign in to see balance)    
  • Remember name/email/url (set a cookie)

Close

Add A Reply

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here



Subscribe to the Techdirt Daily newsletter




Comment Options:

  • Use markdown. Use plain text.
  • Make this the First Word or Last Word. No thanks. (get credits or sign in to see balance)    
  • Remember name/email/url (set a cookie)

Follow Techdirt
Special Affiliate Offer

Essential Reading
Techdirt Deals
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Techdirt Insider Chat
Recent Stories

This site, like most other sites on the web, uses cookies. For more information, see our privacy policy. Got it
Close

Email This

This feature is only available to registered users. Register or sign in to use it.