Austin police officers in 2015 stopped African-Americans more and used force against them more frequently than any other ethnic group, a new report shows.
The full annual report was released Tuesday by the Office of the Austin Police Monitor, which accepts and files public complaints as well as internal Austin Police Department complaints against the department’s 1,752 officers. The report shows statistics on the number, type and frequency of complaints filed against APD officers and offers recommendations for improving compliance.
The major findings show African-Americans had a 1-in-7 chance of being searched if stopped by police, compared to the 1-in-9 chance for Hispanic or Latino individuals and a 1-in-21 chance for Caucasians in 2015.
“Simply put, blacks/African-Americans had force used [against them]more while Caucasians had force used less than their percentage of arrests,” the report said.
As a possible solution, the office recommended making publicly available the data that stems from vehicle and pedestrian stops, even if they don’t result in a citation or arrest. It also recommended regularly performing routine audits on traffic stops and on reports filed to ensure there is no racial profiling.
Austin Police Department responds
Interim Police Chief Brian Manley said those findings were consistent with what the Center for Policing Equity/Urban Institute found when it studied APD’s 2015 vehicle stops and 2014 use-of-force incidents.
“They did a very thorough review of us, and they found some discrepancies,” he said, pointing to the fact that APD officers police more heavily in lower-income neighborhoods where there are higher crime rates and an overrepresentation of the minority population.
He pointed out the statistics aren’t just shaped by the officers’ actions; a judge also has to sign probable cause affidavits brought forth by the police.
“There’s a system of checks and balances,” Manley said.
He said de-escalation was a central theme in the police monitor’s report, but that practice is nothing new to APD.
“[De-escalation] is woven into all of our training,” he said. He added the department was in agreement with the police monitor’s recommendation to emphasize de-escalation.
Use of force
Separate from the statistics on race as it relates to complaints, the police monitor found thousands of use-of-force incidents are recorded by APD each year in the department’s annual Response to Resistance report—3,273 reports involving 1,888 people in 2015—yet less than 50 incidents are resulting in complaints and catching the eye of the police monitor’s office.
“Given the number of incidents in which the APD uses force, the number of external allegations seems low,” Police Monitor Margo Frasier wrote in the report.
Manley responded to that statement with a question: “What number would you expect, and what is the basis for you expecting that number?”
He said it wasn’t fair that the police monitor’s office was implying there was something wrong with the system because the use-of-force numbers are lower than the police monitor’s office thinks they should be.
The police monitor recommended addressing the use-of-force discrepancies by routinely auditing the use of force reports.
“The [police monitor’s office]cannot know how many people who had force used on them even know about the complaint process,” Frasier wrote. “Nor can we know how many people simply chose not to make a complaint.”
If deficiencies are discovered, training, policy development and/or discipline should be considered, the report recommended.
When a formal complaint is filed, it is sent to the Internal Affairs Department with a recommendation for classification. A formal complaint can have one of the following classifications:
- Administrative inquiry—a critical incident, ordered by the chief
- A—allegations of a serious nature that include criminal conduct and/or objectively unreasonable force resulting in an injury that needs emergency medical treatment at a medical facility
- B—allegations of a less serious nature; less serious violations of APD policy and objectively unreasonable force resulting in minor injuries
- C—allegations that don’t fit into class A or B and don’t rise to the level of a policy violation
- D—not a policy violation, or the allegation is not true. The case is considered “administratively closed.”
The OPM found 53 percent of external formal complaints received a “D” classification in 2015, down slightly from 2014’s 57 percent.
Frasier said caution should be taken when using the “D” classification because it “essentially predicts the result of the investigation or precludes actually conducting an investigation.”
She said a “D” classification “seems to infer from the beginning that IAD has recommended to the chain of command that the allegation has no merit.”
She recommended ADP take greater care in classifying cases as “D” and said if it’s not clear whether the complaint has merit, it should be classified as “A” or “B.” If it turns out the officer didn’t commit a violation, the complaint should be classified as “unfounded” instead of “administratively closed.”
Accountability, changes to reporting
To Manley, the fact that 216 of the 280 formal complaints filed in 2015 were internal shows the police department’s supervisors are willing to hold the officers accountable for their actions.
“Obviously, you don’t want to have complaints against the department,” he said. “We’re the 11th-largest city in the country, so to think we should go without complaints is unreasonable.”
Manley said one big change coming out of the police monitor’s recommendations is the reporting of all vehicle and pedestrian stops, not just those that result in a citation or arrest, which is required by law to report.
Reporting on stops that don’t result in an arrest or citation was implemented Jan. 1, and Manley said right now, a lot of manual work is being done to keep track of these while the department works to create an automated solution.
Here are some other statistics from the report:
- In 2015, 1,134 people contacted the police monitor’s office or the APD’s Internal Affairs Department to file a complaint against someone in APD, yet only 552 were filed as complaints. The police monitor’s report said oftentimes that was because the person who called to file a complaint was not directly involved in the incident. Only someone directly involved may file a complaint with the police monitor.
- Caucasians—who make up the majority of the voting age population within city limits—filed the most complaints overall.
- Caucasians were stopped 4 percent less than their representation of the voting age population, while African Americans were stopped at a rate 5 percent above their representation.
- Fifty-six percent of the time, nothing was found in a probable cause search.
- Allegations of bias-based profiling were recorded 18 times.
- The downtown area recorded the highest number of allegations, followed by Central East Austin, Southwest Austin and Southeast Austin.
- As in years past, male officers received more complaints against them than their representation on the police force.
- 63 percent of officers with a complaint in 2015 had at least one previous complaint between 2011 and 2014.
- 53 percent of males and 47 percent of females filed complaints.
- Code-of-conduct allegations, which include compliance, instances of dishonesty, accountability and relationships with coworkers, made up the most complaints filed.
- For the past five years, the majority of the police force—68 percent to 74 percent of all officers—have not had a complaint lodged against them.
What happens when I file a formal complaint?
When the Office of the Police Monitor receives a formal complaint, a complaint specialist conducts a preliminary interview with the complainant to gather more facts and see whether there is a violation. A formal complaint can take as long as 180 days to be processed.
Complainants have three options:
- File a formal complaint, which is the most serious of complaints and is investigated by the Internal Affairs Division or by a chain of command;
- File a supervisor referral, which is handled by the officer’s chain of command;
- Enter into mediation, in which the complainant meets with the officer and a mediator to discuss the issue.
If no clear policy violation is found, the complaint specialist educates and informs the complainant about ATD’s policies and procedures that are applicable to the situation.
If a policy violation is found, an investigation ensues. Once the investigation is finished, the chain of command issues a finding that follows into several categories:
- Exonerated—the incident occurred but is considered lawful and proper
- Sustained—the allegation is supported or misconduct was discovered during the investigation
- Unfounded—the allegation was false or not factual
- Inconclusive—there wasn’t enough evidence to prove the allegation
- Administratively closed—no allegations were made or the complaint was closed by a supervisor. Complaints like this receive a “D” classification. In 2015, 66 percent of allegations were labeled as “administratively closed.”
The police monitor’s office suggests using the “administratively closed” category sparingly, saying another finding gives credence to the process.
After an investigation is completed, the chain of command then administers discipline, which ranges from oral counseling to being terminated.