Austin City Council votes to approve changes to APD use-of-force practices — in addition to racial justice reforms

Austin

AUSTIN (KXAN) — On Thursday, Austin City Council approved several resolutions focused on police reform and racial justice.

All 10 council members and Mayor Steve Adler previously expressed unanimous support for the resolutions, but on Thursday evening, the council voted for their approval.

After nearly six hours, the council voted unanimously to approve the resolutions.

The approval of Item 50 sets a goal of zero racial disparity and sets metrics for achieving goals including zero racial disparity in traffic stops and use-of-force incidents by Austin police officers.

Item No. 95 will implement changes to Austin Police policies and tactics, including chokeholds or strangleholds, among other changes.

The approval of Item 96 provides direction for Austin’s upcoming budget that no additional sworn police staff positions should be added and that sworn positions the department cannot reasonably fill in fiscal year 2020-21 should be eliminated, redirecting those unused funds to other public health and safety efforts.

Item 94’s passage is a fair housing resolution which asks for fair housing considerations for those with conviction or eviction history.

Item 93 aims to convert the council’s Judicial Committee into a Public Safety Committee within the council.

Below is a live blog of the day’s events.

Update 7:20 p.m.

After around five hours of speakers on the police reform and racial justice items, council has heard all of the speakers. Council is going on a dinner break and will return at 8 p.m. to discuss these items and take a vote.

Update 6:00 p.m.

Mayor Steve Adler said there are still 40 speakers waiting to talk with the council. Each speaker gets one minute. By this time in the day, some of the speakers say they have been waiting on the line for eight hours for their turn to share a minute of commentary. After this group of speakers finishes commentary, council will take a dinner break. Following the dinner break, council is expected to take a vote.

Update 5:00 p.m.

90 speakers still remain to share their thoughts with council on the items related to police reform and criminal justice. Speakers receive one minute to speak each.

Update 3:40 p.m.

One of the 141 speakers who commented to the council on these policing and racial justice items was Brenda Ramos, whose son Mike Ramos was shot and killed by Austin Police in an incident on April 24. Austin Police is still investigating the circumstances around Ramos’ death and the Travis County District Attorney has said she intends to bring Ramos’ case before a grand jury this summer.

“My son Mike did not deserve a death sentence, no way” she told the council. “I am asking you to pass these reforms and replace Chief Manley.”

Council Member Greg Casar told Brenda Ramos that his intent with Item 95 was to explicitly ban Austin Police from shooting at someone who is fleeing.

Update 2:50 p.m.

Council is hearing three-minute public commentary from the 20 first speakers signed up for items 50, 93. 94.95, and 96 who each get three minutes to speak.

Chas Moore, executive director of the Austin Justice Coalition thanked the several council members who have made a commitment so far to reduce APD’s budget by $100 million.

“Keep Austin safe, keep Austin weird, and keep Austin equitable, I think y’all are doing that do great job,” Moore told the council about the items they are discussing today.

Matt Mollica, the executive director of Austin’s Ending Community Homelessness Coalition, ECHO, spoke in support of item 94, the fair housing resolution which would ask for fair housing considerations for those with conviction or eviction history.

“I think we’re all aware of the devastating relationship between racism and homelessness in our community and across the country,” Mollica said, noting that while African Americans represented more than 1 in 3 people counted this year’s ECHO Point in Time Count of people experiencing homelessness, African Americans make up less than 1 in 10 individuals in the total population of Austin-Travis County.

Cary Roberts, the executive director of the Greater Austin Crime Commission, spoke for three minutes to the council as well, saying that while there are some things GACC supports about Items 95 and 96, “symbolic acts to cut cops don’t solve inequity, poverty, and racism. Making the community less safe doesn’t fix failures in affordable housing, education, and public health.”

Comparing this vote to the council’s vote to repeal a ban on camping in public last summer, Roberts said, “like public camping last summer, the city council is considering policy changes with limited public input and without knowing the consequences.”

Roberts referenced the councils commission of the Matrix study in 2016 and how GACC supported efforts to address 76 community policing recommendations from that study. He said APD has completed 66 of those recommendations.

“How can you cut cops but support community policing when officers need more time to build relationships in the neighborhoods they serve?” he said.

Update 1:40 p.m.

Council Member Greg Casar notes that his resolution Item 95 has been updated to completely ban tear gas in the city of Austin. This is a change from prior drafts of this resolution which would have just restricted tear gas use.

Update 12:30 p.m.

Council begins addressing items 50, 93, 94, 95, and 96 which are all related to police reform and racial justice. They are being addressed as a group. Council members have all indicated they will unanimously support all of these items and took time before calling forward speakers on these items to comment on them.

Many council members indicated their offices have seen an unprecedented community outreach in the past few weeks regarding policing matters.

“A lot of people are saying to me this is our first time engaging in our city government and that is truly exciting for me,” Council Member Natasha-Harper Madison said. “That is something that not too long ago I was doing for the first time.

Harper-Madison said of city politics, “it’s so much closer to you than the state and federal government and I hope everyone, I want to encourage everyone to stay involved and stay engaged.”

“Democracy works so much better when it actually reflects the diversity of our community, thank you for your participation and thank you for your voice,” she said to the people who have been participating in city meetings recently.

Mayor Pro Tem Delia Garza noted of the actions council will be taking Thursday, “this is no victory lap for us, there is so much work to do, in fact the harder work is still ahead of us.”

“I do support the reduction of the 100 million dollars in APD’s budget,” Garza said. “This is about right-sizing our response to a public health, a mental health crisis.”

While community groups including the Austin Justice Coalition have called for cutting $100 million from APD’s budget and some council members have expressed support for this, none of the posted resolutions up for a vote today would make this budget cut. The city’s budget discussion process happens in August.

Council Member Ann Kitchen noted, “I am committed to demilitarizing and reenvisioning a department that is better aligned, we need new principles of action for our police department.

Kitchen also called for the city to address the “8 Can’t Wait policies for use of force reform.” While “8 Can’t Wait” says APD meets three of the eight in objectives, yesterday Austin Police Chief Brian Manley said that he believes that APD has the spirit of all eight in practice.

Council Member Alison Alter reiterated the call she had made Tuesday for new public safety leadership in the city.

“I truly believe we must reimagine policing in Austin and I believe the first step is admitting we have a problem that goes deeper than the symptoms we are seeing,” she said.

“I have great respect for the men City Manager Cronk has appointed to lead our public safety,” Alter continued. “I believe we need different leadership, suited for the challenges we face today.”

At Tuesday’s council work session, Alter indicated that she believes Austin Police Chief Brian Manley, Assistant Chief Troy Gay and Assistant City Manager Rey Arellano. Alter along with Mayor Pro Tem Garza, Council Member Jimmy Flannigan, and Council Member Greg Casar have directly stated they believe Austin Police needs new leadership. Council Member Pio Renteria indicated he is losing confidence in Chief Manley.

Update 11:30 a.m.

Council passes the consent agenda, including Item 45 which lowers speed limits across the city and Item 103 which approves a contract with the Better Business Bureau to disburse pandemic relief dollars to small businesses and nonprofits through the new CLEAR and ANCHOR funds.

Update 10:25 a.m.

Austin Mayor Steve Adler says more than 300 people have signed up to speak at Thursday’s meeting which should take around 6 hours. Speakers on the items related to police reform and racial justice will be taken in a group (50,93,94,95, and 96), the first 20 speakers will have three minutes to speak, all other speakers will have one minute to speak.

Original story

KXAN Reporter Kevin Clark broke down the resolutions. Item No. 95 brought forward by Council Member Greg Casar would implement changes to Austin Police policies and tactics.

The resolution would strictly prohibit police from using the following:

  • Chokeholds or strangleholds
  • Officers from shooting at moving vehicles
  • Use of tear gas and impact munitions on people exercising their First Amendment rights
  • Limit no-knock warrants, limits the use of facial recognition technology by police
  • Require de-escalation tactics in all circumstances
  • Delay the July APD cadet class until the training curriculum is overhauled, according to prior council direction.

Council Member Harper-Madison brought forward Item 96, which provides direction for Austin’s upcoming budget that no additional sworn police staff positions should be added and that sworn positions the department cannot reasonably fill in fiscal year 2020-2021 should be eliminated, redirecting those unused funds to other public health and safety efforts. The item is a shift from recent fiscal year budgets, which added new officers following the directives of a city-funded report by the Matrix Consulting Group. This item also indicates a lack of faith among the council for the police department saying “the elected members of City Council have no confidence that current Austin Police Department leadership intends to implement the policy and culture changes required to end the disproportionate impact of police violence on Black Americans, Latinx Americans, other nonwhite ethnic communities, and returning and low-income residents.”

Council Member Flannigan brought forward Item 93, which would convert the council’s Judicial Committee into a Public Safety Committee within the council — which he will chair.

Item 50, brought forward by Mayor Pro Tem Delia Garza sets a goal of zero racial disparity and sets metrics for achieving goals including zero racial disparity in traffic stops and use-of-force incidents by Austin police officers.

  • Zero racial disparity in traffic stops
  • Zero racial disparity in arrests and citations that result from traffic stops
  • Zero use-of-force incidents
  • Zero deaths at the hands of APD officers

Austin NAACP President Nelson Linder said accountability is the key to improve.

“Accountability is a problem I think, that’s clearly the issue,” Linder said. “We’re talking about where the resources should go, and I think there needs to be more investment in the black and brown communities based on equity.”

Austin Police Association President Ken Casaday said for nearly the past two decades, the police department has made strides to hold its officers accountable by implementing new changes in their contract.

“One of the big things that was in this contract is that a lot of citizens felt like they couldn’t make a complaint on an officer because they feared retaliation, so we have what we have is an anonymous hotline and anonymously for you to mail in complaints,” he said. “The right to have the Police Monitor Office involved in all the interviews with police officers that are accused of policy violations and misconduct, I mean I could go on and on.”

The Austin Justice Coalition is calling on council to cut APD’s budget by $100 million. Council won’t vote on that today. No police officer will lose their job as a result of today’s votes, but Casaday fears that will happen with deeper cuts.

More than 200 people spoke at Thursday’s meeting.

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