The City of Austin will host three community forums over the next week to consider changing how city police officers are supervised.
“Our oversight structure has not been reviewed in 16 years,” said Police Monitor Farah Muscadin, whose office handles citizen complaints against police. Muscadin became the permanent police monitor in July.
These upcoming community forums continue a yearlong effort by the Austin City Council to retool police oversight. It started in December, when, for the first time in the city’s history council members rejected the police contract – the agreement between the police union and the city that determines pay, hiring practices and discipline guidelines.
“At the end of the night, we have to understand that if our police department is going to be the highest paid, then we must also expect the highest level of transparency and accountability,” Council Member Alison Alter said at that meeting. During hours of testimony, advocates called for more independence in investigating officers, among other concerns.
Chris Harris, an analyst with the nonprofit Grassroots Leadership, testified against the contract, but said that he respected Council's ability to listen to citizens.
“We see that the community has a much better opportunity to actually get its wishes fulfilled by the Council,” said Harris. “You also have, obviously post-Ferguson, a lot more community engagement on issues of police oversight and brutality.”
Harris now serves on the Police Oversight Advisory Working Group, a collection of police officers, union members and citizens that's gathering input to help inform any oversight reform by Council. The working group's preliminary recommendations include allowing people to file police complaints online and bolstering data reporting on policing.
Here’s a list of the city’s scheduled public forums:
- Wednesday, Sept. 19 from 6 p.m. to 7 p.m. at Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish, 1206 E. 9th St.
- Saturday, Sept. 22 from 11 a.m. to 12 p.m. at the Gus Garcia Recreation Center, 1201 E. Rundberg Ln.
- Tuesday, Sept. 25 from 6 p.m. to 7 p.m. at the Great Mount Zion Church, 4301 Tannehill Ln.