AUSTIN, Texas -- Significant changes are coming next Friday to the oversight of Austin's police force after the Austin Police Association overwhelmingly voted to let its existing labor contract expire Dec. 29.
The decision could dissolve the Office of the Police Monitor, an independent watchdog agency created under the labor agreement, and the 11-member Citizen Review Panel that is appointed by the Austin City Council.
"It will be reduced probably significantly once the adjustments are made," Interim Police Chief Brian Manley said.
Interim City Manager Elaine Hart sent a seven-page memo to the Mayor and City Council on Thursday that outlined city attorneys' perspective on police oversight.
"In collaboration with the Law Department and APD management, I am evaluating the City's options concerning police oversight by the Office of the Police Monitor and the Citizen Review Panel in the absence of a labor agreement," she said. "An analysis of these options will be provided to Council after the first of the year."
He described the two agencies as providing a "unique level of accountability and transparency" to Austin. Manley will still be responsible for handing down discipline.
"The Internal Affairs Division will remain in place, and the men and women of that division will continue to investigate the cases that are assigned to them," Manley said.
"We feel like the city loses much more than we do," said Austin Police Association President Ken Casaday.
Austin is the only police department in Texas with a Police Monitor. Appointed by the City Manager, the Police Monitor has access to crime scenes and is at every officer-involved shooting.
"Right now, they have unfettered access and they get everything," Casaday said. "After the 29th, that will be gone."
Chas Moore of the Austin Justice Coalition said the Austin City Council could create a Civil Service Commission to maintain external oversight.
"We feel that that could replace the Citizen Review Panel and be just as important and just as powerful," said Moore.
He said a Civil Service Commission has subpoena power and the ability to launch its own investigations. Both are privileges he said the current Citizen Review Panel does not enjoy but should.
Moore, who led efforts to have the City Council reject the proposed five-year contract, said he's aware members of the police union may be unhappy with his role in the process. However, he said he respects their will to continue serving and protecting Austin.
"We are still going to wake up," Moore said. "We are still going to have a police department. We are going to have a police department that may be a little angry with Council. If they are dedicated to the community, they are still going to do their jobs. I think they have been doing that ever since last Wednesday."
That was the day City Council voted 11-0 to send negotiators back to the table to iron out differences. The police union said this week it won't negotiate with the city until next spring, so the new City Manager is on the job and up to speed.