City and police union negotiate new contract after five turbulent years

Wednesday May 4th, 2022 by Emma Freer

The City of Austin and the Austin Police Association have come together for their sixth day of negotiations Monday as they work on a new contract.

The city’s negotiating team proposed changes to the drug testing and promotion provisions of the contract, citing recommendations from a January 2022 report by a consulting firm hired to review the Austin Police Department. The APA negotiating team will respond at a seventh meeting, which likely won’t take place until June.

As in the past, both sides are seeking to balance calls for increased oversight, accountability and transparency with demands for higher wages and benefits.

But a lot has happened in Austin over the past five years.

The current contract entered into force in November 2018 after an extended period of negotiation and expires on September 30. The city council unanimously rejected the initial version of the five-year deal in December 2017, sending it back to the negotiating table.

Since then, Austin has grappled with the Covid-19 pandemic; a series of mass protests against police violence and racial injustice where officers dozens injuredsome critically; police budget cuts; new state laws penalize cities that reduce their police budgets; suspending and restarting ODA Cadet Academy; rejection of a local ballot proposal expand ODA; a worsening labor shortage; and the 19 officers indicted by grand jury who used poof balls on protesters.

The police union and criminal justice reform advocates say these events have set the stage for negotiations.

“There’s a different sense of lack of appreciation for what police officers do in this city,” said Melanie Rodriguez, president of the Austin Association of Women Policewomen and APA board member. .

Against this backdrop, APA Vice President Thomas Villarreal said the union’s priorities for the new contract were better working conditions, higher wages and better benefits.

“We want the crème de la crème to come here because we desperately need people,” Villarreal said.

APA President Ken Casaday told the city’s Public Safety Commission in January that the APD was short by about 200 officers.

But favorable contract terms may not be enough to solve this problem.

“Nobody wants to be a police officer in Austin, Texas,” said Jennifer Szimanski, spokeswoman for the Combined Law Enforcement Associations of Texas, citing the lack of public support for police and recent grand jury indictments.

Chris Harris, director of policy for the Austin Justice Coalition, also senses a change this time around.

AJC calls for more authority for Office of Police Oversight; an extension of the so-called 180-day rule, which limits to six months from the date of the alleged incident the time an officer can be investigated and disciplined for misconduct; and increased transparency around officers’ personal records.

“We made many of the same requests in 2017 and 2018,” he said. “For the most part, the city’s negotiators did not include these demands in their proposal. This time it’s different. »

Emily Gerrick, director of policy for the Texas Fair Defense Project, said events in recent years – including the killings of APD officers, recent multimillion-dollar settlements paid by the city to those injured by the police during the 2020 protests and grand jury indictments – showed why such demands are necessary.

“The Austin Police Department has clearly demonstrated that we must not allow it to investigate and discipline its own officers behind closed doors,” she wrote in a statement. austin monitor.

Still, Harris is wary of the upcoming negotiations. He said AJC doesn’t want to see the city “buy” increased oversight, accountability and transparency with officer pay raises and other perks. “Those dollars could be put to better use elsewhere,” he said.

Once the city and the APA reach a tentative agreement, the city council must approve it. If the two sides fail to reach an agreement by the September 30 deadline, the current contract will automatically be extended for another six months, until March 2023, according to a November report. Press release from the city.

Photo made available through a Creative Commons license.

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