AUSTIN, Texas - Back in December, the Austin Police Department's labor contract expired.
“The officers feel betrayed. They've been working their rear ends off over the last four weeks as everyone knows, and still we don’t have a labor contract. We don't have any guidance from the city manager or city council on a labor contract so I would say, pissed off is probably the proper terminology,” said Ken Casaday, president of the Austin Police Association.
The office of the police monitor, which is an civilian watchdog group, is still operating, but the issue the APA and CLEAT have is this office still has access to internal records. The police union and cleat sued the city for this.
“They’re saying they can still participate in internal affairs investigations, we are saying they can't,” said Casaday.
“They believe that the OPM should not be able to gain access to personnel files, which is a necessary feature of monitoring internal affairs investigations,” said Brian MCGiverin, attorney siding with the Austin Justice Coaltion.
Activists who support the city say the OPM is an extension of the city manager, and getting a hold of internal affairs records is a main function of the office. Because of the police monitor, they say countless changes have been made to improve police transparency and oversight.
“The OPM is important under our current structure because it helps monitor the quality of internal affairs department investigations staffed by civilian personnel as opposed to IAD (internal affairs department, which is staffed by police officers,” said Sukyi McMahon, board chair at Austin Justice Coalition.
Just as the department is dealing with another officer involved shooting, Monday afternoon...a Travis county judge heard arguments. The city of Austin tried to get the lawsuit tossed out.
“We agree with the city that the current structure for the OPM is legal,” said McMahon.
Casaday says he believes in oversight...but with no labor contract, access to confidential records should remain sealed to any civilians.
“We agreed to a labor contract with the city of Austin that provided more oversight than anywhere in the state of Texas. Our officers voted 85 percent to pass the contract and our city council here failed to take action and vote on it,” said Casaday.
The judge decided Monday to review the case further, and make a decision from there.