AUSTIN (KXAN) - The Department of Justice said in a letter to the City of Austin it will not review the Austin Police Department. In response, local civil rights groups say the ball is now back in the city council's court to ensure the police are policed, in effect.
“City leadership has to take hold of this issue and thus far, they haven't,” Nelson Linder of the local chapter of the NAACP told KXAN. “I mean they've been running away from the issue. I think now they're going to be forced to come up front and talk about police policies, accountability and telling that directly to the people who live in this city who vote for them.”
In August, City Manager Marc Ott requested the review of policies, procedures and practices of APD after a string of officer involved shootings, including 10 since the start of 2012. That includes seven this year, three of which were fatal.
The requested evaluation was to examine potential, systematic issues or patterns of misconduct by the department, the city said.
- Read the letter the Department of Justice sent to the City of Austin
- Marc Ott's letter to the Mayor and Council Members
The request followed an investigation into the police department that was opened by the DOJ in May 2007 after allegations of excessive force. The investigation was closed in May 2011 after the DOJ "concluded they did not have reasonable cause to believe that APD engaged in actions that deprived residents of their protections under the Constitution."
Through that investigation, the DOJ provided APD with more than 160 recommendations on how to better the department, and the vast majority of the suggestions were implemented.
Added Scott Medlock of the Texas Civil Rights Project, the group that brought the 2007 review request with NAACP: "The city council needs to what the DOJ has already suggested. I don't think this is any sort of whitewash or blessing of what the police have done here."
Because of the implementation of those recommendations, the DOJ said it felt the police department currently has "standing oversight tools and practices that can provide a credible means for the city to respond to incidents like the recent events in Austin, thus determining that the existing mechanisms will be the most effective way of refurbishing community trust in APD."
“Public safety and community trust are fundamentally interwoven, which is why in I requested that the Department of Justice review the practices and policies of APD," Ott said. "Furthermore, because the DOJ made the recommendations to APD, I felt they could be helpful in reviewing tactics as they relate to policies.
“I am grateful to the Justice Department for their consideration and thankful for the confidence they have in our present, city processes," he added. "I have directed Chief (Art) Acevedo to conduct an internal review to determine if our tactics are consistent with our policies. The chief has committed to providing a report to me within 90 days."
The city also said it has worked the the DOJ's Community Relations Service, a separate office from the Civil Rights Division, which focuses on mediation of community tension and conflict concerning race issues.
The NAACP's Nelson Linder said A DOJ-led meeting is planned September 25th to address community tensions and help mediate ongoing issues. A location will be announced in the next 10 days, he said.
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