Austin

Judge to decide if city can access APD personnel files without contract

AUSTIN (KXAN) - The Austin Police Association and the Combined Law Enforcement Associations of Texas are suing to get the city of Austin out of the internal files of the Austin Police Department. 

Tuesday, the city is asking a local judge to dismiss the case and allow city staff to have access without a police contract in place. 

Judge Amy Clark Meachum in the 201st District Court heard the case. 

Last year, the city and the police association could not come to an agreement on a contract determining pay, benefits, public accountability and transparency. City Council unanimously voted down a contract proposal city staff and the police association had agreed on. 

Officers lost pay and benefits and their union representatives sued to kick the city's office of the police monitor out of access. Right now, the office of the police monitor is the only civilian oversight Austin has of the police department. 

Association President Ken Casaday says after they spent weeks tracking down the Austin bomber, police officers feel betrayed the city continues to fight them in court. In his view, Texas law allows APD to keep internal investigations within the department and the office of the police monitor is overstepping its role by peeking in.

"Pissed off is probably the proper terminology," said Casaday, "we feel like they're violating the rights of our officers in internal affairs."

Before the hearing, social justice advocacy groups Grassroots Leadership and the Austin Justice Coalition held a press conference siding with the city. Leaders there say the police associations are using "access" as a bargaining tool in the restarted contract negotiations. 

The Austin Justice Coalition and Grassroots Leadership are siding with city lawyers. Sukyi McMahon with the coalition says there are too many officer shootings and use of force complaints for police to police themselves. She wants someone who's not an officer watching over. 

"The more information we have as the public. The more trust that we have," said McMahon. "So we understand who is policing us. When we're pulled over we might know exactly who this person is and what their history is." 

The judge has not made a decision. We could see one Tuesday. We could see one in a few weeks. But the beginnings of new negotiations for another police contract have already begun.

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