AUSTIN (KXAN) — Austin City Council had another loaded agenda Thursday. Here’s what we’re watching.
Austin Police Oversight Act: Failed
The future of Austin Police transparency is in the hands of Austin voters after city council failed to adopt the Austin Police Oversight Act Thursday night. The item will go in the city’s election in May.
After a local nonprofit collected enough signatures to put the Act before Austin City Council, the council was required to vote to either adopt the act or to send it to voters.
According to Austin Equity, the act would improve transparency and civilian oversight of the Austin Police Department. It would also give Austin’s Office of Police Oversight access to all police records, end the practices of keeping police personnel records private and allow OPO to make discipline recommendations.
The group said they started the process because of a December change they believe many people don’t know about.
“The Austin Police Association went into arbitration regarding the Office of Police Oversight, and during that arbitration, what happened was the Office of Police Oversight was really stripped of the powers that they did have. And so now they’re not currently able to conduct the investigations,” Alycia Castillo with Equity Action said.
APD is not in favor of the act saying, in part: “We have the most robust oversight in the entire State of Texas, and it’s been a part of our police department for over 20 years.”
License plate readers: Approved
Austin City Council approved reinstating APD’s license plate reader program. The discussion has been kicked down the line several meetings in a row. The controversial program was discontinued when the council cut the police budget in 2020.
“For me, this is a matter of life safety for people in the community. If we can save one child who is abducted or if we could help one victim of a heinous crime get justice, then that’s worth it to me,” Kelly said, also briefly noting she was confident the council could ensure the data collected was used appropriately.
EFF Austin — an Austin-based digital civil liberties advocacy organization — said it has major concerns with the resolution as proposed when it comes to people’s rights and privacy.
“We believe it blatantly violates the Fourth Amendment’s prohibitions against unreasonable search and seizure,” Kevin Welch, president of the EFF Austin board, said. He has been heavily involved in talking to city council members about the legality of the program.
The police department will now be able to reinstate the cameras it has from previous use and will be able to continue the program immediately.
City to set legislative agenda: Pulled
The City of Austin discussed setting its legislative agenda for next year, which is a document sent to state leaders that asks them to address certain issues.
“The result of an inclusive process, we believe that this agenda best represents the needs and concerns of Austin residents. It is our intent that this agenda guide our city staff, in coordination with our strategic partners, in their efforts to advocate on behalf of the City of Austin and its residents,” a draft of the document said.
The city is poised to send a note of support for legislation that “strengthens the financial soundness and health of the City’s Retirement Systems” and legislation that allows the city regulate land use to “preserve property value.”
You can find the draft of this year’s legislative priorities here.