AUSTIN (KXAN) — Austin police could find out as early as Wednesday if they will have a new contract to work under. A big crowd is expected at City Hall in the afternoon — to call on city council to scrap the entire contract all together.
More than 15 activist groups are asking council to not vote on this deal and rethink it.
“So we want to invest more in the root causes of public safety and that includes things like mental health services, treatment centers, counseling, youth programs, all up and down the chain and right now we feel we are over allocating to the police,” says Chris Harris, campaign coordinator with Grassroots Leadership.
The police contract is a five year, $82 million deal that gives police officers raises, but also improves the accountability of officers by giving the public an easier way to report issues through an anonymous online form. For the past year the police union, city officials and activists have been negotiating this contract.
Groups against it like Grassroots Leadership — a non-profit focusing on prison reform — say the changes made to accommodate more transparency between the police and public isn’t enough.
“We’ve seen they have been more responsive than in years past in negotiation cycles which is encouraging,” Harris says. “But, with that said, the new deal they came out with represents very, very minimal reform from our point of view and continues to invest heavily in the police who are already the highest paid in the state.”
Mayor Pro Tem Kathie Tovo says she is still not sure whether she wants to approve the contract.
“One of the main considerations for me is what would happen if the contract does not move forward,” Tovo says. “The contract provisions do respond to many of the suggestions community members have raised for us.”
The police union says if council rejects the contract, it will not come back to the table and will not extend its current contract — instead working under a stripped-down civil service law.
Interim police chief Brian Manley told the public safety commission earlier this month that the consequences of not passing the contract would do more damage than good. Manley pointed to the potential of losing dozens of officers with 23 years of service at APD who are now eligible to retire. The interim chief told the commission under the current contract, those officers can utilize accrued paid time off, sick leave, etc. and take a pay out from the city. The 149 officers included in that retirement group could cost taxpayers $16.2 million in “terminal pay” if the contract isn’t approved and those officers choose to retire.
Austin City Council called a special meeting for 3 p.m. at Austin City Hall.