AUSTIN (KXAN) — Contract negotiations between the City of Austin and the Austin Police Association have been ongoing for the better part of the year, but Thursday night, they hit a setback over police oversight.

The current labor agreement would have expired Sept. 30, but it was automatically extended until March of next year so negotiations could continue.

However, on Thursday the groups clashed over removing and separating police oversight from the contract process. APA said it would oppose that, but the City said the group previously agreed to jointly work on that goal.

As it currently stands, the Office of Police Oversight (OPO) has “unfettered” – or unrestricted – access to APD records. According to the most recent contract proposal available online, the police union wants that access “strictly limited to those items included in the Internal Affairs Division file.”

“The thing that’s the most important to our officers are due process rights. Ensuring that whatever system we come up with is a fair and equitable system, and it’s not a system that can be manipulated,” said APA President Thomas Villarreal.

A city spokesperson released a statement Thursday night, saying in part that “the city negotiating team has been clear from the beginning that oversight must be removed from the contract.”

The parties reached a setback in negotiations today regarding whether police oversight should be separated from the union contract. The City negotiating team has been clear from the beginning that oversight must be removed from the contract. The City is willing to continue to negotiate with the union over pay and conditions of employment, if the Association is willing to continue discussions on removal of the police oversight provisions from the contract. Ultimately, our community members expect and deserve transparency and accountability in policing and we fully intend to make that happen through a combination of City ordinance and a responsible labor agreement. 
The City Manager is confident that the parties will come to an agreement on a sound labor contract, which will be key to recruiting and retaining the top-quality police officers we need to keep our community safe, and to building the community-focused, equity-oriented police department to which we’re committed.

City of Austin Spokesperson

Villarreal’s full statement is below:

The Austin Police Association believes that being under contract with the City is in the best interest of the citizens of Austin, the City of Austin, the Austin Police Department and our officers. We remain open and willing to bargain towards a contract is provides fair working conditions, fair wages and due process protections for our officers while working towards a middle ground on issues important to the City. We look forward to the City letting us know when we can continue negotiations. 

Thomas Villarreal, President of the Austin Police Association

The last contract was approved in the fall of 2018. This is the first new contract since the 2020 protests.

Meanwhile, the “Austin Police Oversight Act” will hit the ballot in May. According to a City spokesperson, “any agreements about civilian oversight reached by the City and the APA in their labor contract would supersede any contrary or conflicting provisions in the proposed Police Oversight Act.”