City of Austin and police union reach tentative contract agreement after nearly one year without one

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After nearly one year without a labor contract, the city of Austin and the Austin Police Association reached a tentative agreement on a new police contract Thursday evening.

The provisional deal includes modest pay increases for Austin Police Department officers and improved accountability measures, including the ability for residents to make anonymous complaints, the publication of all material related to complaints that result in a disciplinary action and the provision for the city to establish a new Office of Police Oversight that will expand the role and power of the outgoing Office of the Police Monitor.

“I believe the outcome of the negotiations has resulted in a fair deal that balances the priorities of our community, our police officers and our city leaders,” City Manager Spencer Cronk said in a statement.

Both police union members and City Council must approve the contract. City Manager Spencer Cronk recommended that council approve the contract at its Nov. 15 meeting, per a memo he issued Friday.

“We all recognize that nothing’s final until ink’s on paper,” said Ron DeLord, an attorney and police contract consultant who is leading APA in the negotiations, on Thursday.

The tentative agreement includes a 1-percent raise for officers in its first year and 2-percent raises each additional year for three years, resulting in a 7.2-percent raise over four years.

With these pay increases factored in, the total cost of the contract over the four years it would take effect—through September 2022—is calculated at $44.6 million, per a city memo.

This is a change from the previous contract proposal, which, if it had been approved, would have provided officers with a 9.5-percent pay raise over five years at a cost of $82 million.

APD officers are the highest paid in the state, making nearly 14 percent more than the next highest-paid department.

The city has secured some, but not all, of its requests for improved accountability and transparency.

Notably, the 180-day rule—which restricts the amount of time APD is able to investigate and discipline an officer for misconduct to 180 days—remains intact. In cases allegedly related to criminal activity, the tentative agreement allows for the 180-day clock to begin when the police chief or an assistant chief becomes aware of the incident.

Officers are also still entitled to 48 hours and prior viewing of investigative evidence before making a formal statement about alleged misconduct.

When the city’s negotiating team proposed to change these rules at an Oct. 30 session, DeLord said, “We have no interest in that.”

Chris Harris, a data analyst and campaigns coordinator for local criminal justice reform nonprofit Grassroots Leadership, said the tentative contract includes “considerable improvements” from both the proposal that was rejected last December and the previous contract, which was in place from 2013 through 2017.

Harris added, however, that he felt the city did not push as hard as it could have on issues of accountability.

“From what I can tell, the city rushed to complete the negotiation process this week in a way that did not fully take advantage of the considerable leverage that they had by virtue of the police not currently having their stipends,” Harris said.

Chas Moore, founder of the Austin Justice Coalition, was instrumental in rallying residents to testify against the previous contract prior to city council’s rejection of the proposal.

“It’s been a long year, but because of breaking barriers down and conversations with [APA leaders], we now have an improved APA contract that I can get behind,” Moore wrote on Twitter Thursday. “No one got everything they wanted, but it’s a huge step in the right direction.”

The negotiations have been ongoing since Dec. 13, 2017, when Austin City Council rejected a proposed contract, citing concerns about cost and accountability.

At times, they have been contentious, with both sides laying blame with the other.

The city offered the APA an extension of the previous contract that would have secured specialty pay and other provisions for an additional 12 months—through December 2018—as negotiations continued.

APA rejected their offer, citing legal reasons. APA President Ken Casaday told Community Impact Newspaper in January that the union did not have “the legal ability” to accept such an extension because the previous contract only allowed for extensions in 30-day increments if both parties were engaged in negotiations for a successor contract.

More recently, Casaday criticized council at an Oct. 18 meeting for making progress on a new Major League Soccer stadium but not on the city’s contract with the police union.

“We’ve been waiting, and there’s nothing but foot dragging and a waste of time by this council,” Casaday said while signed up to speak on an unrelated matter.

Since the previous contract expired on Dec. 29, APD has operated according to state civil service law.

Without a contract to secure them, certain specialty pay compensations, including for mental health training or higher education achievements, and officer privileges during disciplinary processes were eliminated.

Although City Council approved extensions of most specialty pay provisions, some—including extra-salary stipends for officers working night shifts, court time and clothing—were lost in the interim.

Additionally, recommendations made by the city’s Office of the Police Monitor, a liaison between APD and the community, are no longer been publicly available, and the Citizen Review Panel—another oversight body—was suspended.

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  1. Emma,

    I was very pleased to read your excellent reporting. We’re so very proud of the journalist you’ve become. I hope all is well with you in Austin and your family.

    Love,

    Aunt Kathie

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Emma Freer
Emma Freer began covering Central Austin for Community Impact Newspaper in 2017. Her reporting focuses include employment and economic development. She graduated from Columbia Journalism School in 2017.
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