AUSTIN, Texas - A group called the Political Oversight Project was created after protests erupted in Austin over the deaths of George Floyd and Mike Ramos.
Co-founder Natalie George joined many in calling for police reform and learned about Chapter 143, a fire and police civil statute.
“What we are talking about here is oversight and transparency,” said George. “Right now with chapter 143 in place the Austin Police Association just holds all the cards, they have all the power. And there’s very little that the city of Austin can do.”
The project sees the government code as a barrier for police oversight. Chapter 143 has many regulations. George said among them are concerning like prohibiting the firing of a police chief and preventing departments from releasing officer’s personnel files to the public.
Austin Police Association President Ken Casaday argues the statute benefits both officers and civilians. Casaday responded with a statement:
"The local adoption of the Fire and Police Civil Service statute (Chapter 143 LGC) has been the single greatest achievement in bringing professional standards to policing in Texas. It brought hiring and standards that have benefited the citizens of Austin. Before civil service, there were no women or minorities hired as police officers. Prior to civil service, there was very little training required. Prior to civil service law enforcement was deeply politicized. Repealing civil service would be a return to the bad old days of the 1950s when police answered only to rich politicians and their friends.”
In order for the group to repeal Chapter 143, they need to collect 10 percent of the voting population’s signatures to petition to get it on the May ballot. George said the group anticipates working to collect 60,000 signatures.
“This is sort of the first step in the biggest step we could take to open the room for more reform in the police department,” said George.
The group is only repealing the police portion of the statute, not the fire department portion.