AUSTIN (KXAN) — Austin’s Office of Police Oversight, or OPO, is unveiling its new services for citizens who wish to file a complaint against an Austin Police officer or thank an officer.
Feedback can now be submitted anonymously online at atxpoliceoversight.org.
On the site, directions for giving feedback through the mail or in person can also be found. Citizens can also call the OPO’s new, dedicated complaint line at (512) 972-2OPO.
OPO will also be holding quarterly “community office hours” at public libraries, where Austinites can meet with Office of Police Oversight staff and give complaints or praises in person.
“We received a lot of feedback from the community that our prior process for providing feedback was difficult,” says Office of Police Oversight director Farah Muscadin. “It required filling out a form, an affidavit and had to be notarized. For some people, that was a barrier, making it difficult to report any misconduct, so now we’ve streamlined the process.”
The changes are in an effort to get a better idea of issues within — and perceptions of the police department.
While the new reporting process officially launched Wednesday, Muscadin says since its soft launch, 10 complaints and three ‘thank yous’ have already come in to her office. She says that’s more than what would have happened under the old process, where people had to physically go to the police department.
“How many people are really going to fill out a double-sided form, fill out an affidavit and get it notarized to fill out a complaint?” Muscadin said.
Once the complaints come in under the new system, OPO staff will review any available police reports, police body or car camera footage, or HALO camera footage to determine whether they believe an officer violated department policy. Then, staff members will decide whether the complaint should move forward to APD’s Internal Affairs Division to be investigated.
However, it’s unclear how many complaints will make it that far.
“A huge majority of the reasons our officers get fired or disciplined are internal complaints. They’re not coming from complaints from outside,” said Austin Police Association President Ken Casaday.
Casaday says he’s been told the majority of public complaints that have come in to the Office of Police Oversight in the past are about officers being rude in tense situations. Casaday says what some would define as being rude doesn’t always translate to a police violation.
“We can train officers,” Casaday said. “We can work with officers on those issues, because we hire 21 to 25 year old people and that’s going to be an issue with almost all 21 to 25-year-olds, especially in the type of work we do. So, if that’s really the biggest problem we have, then I think it’s kind of a waste of money.”
Casaday added: “The monitor gets complaints all the time, where, when they go and look at video or look for themselves to see what happened, a lot of the time, the monitor calls the person back and says ‘We disagree with you,’ or ‘We’re sorry you see it that way, but they followed policy.’”
Muscadin, however, says she expects more serious complaints to come in to her office, now that the reporting system has changed.
“We really have to see this process and see it through,” Muscadin said. “Maybe in the old system that may have been true, because there was a barrier to the complaint process, but we’re really doing away with that barrier.”
Muscadin says the Office of Police Oversight will also be looking at trends. Even if some complaints don’t lead to disciplinary action, they could ultimately impact practices within the police department.
“Our goal is not only oversight, but it’s also to review patterns and practices, so if we do see patterns, we’re able to address it with the police department. That may lead to training. We’re really looking at a holistic approach about how we do oversight in the city.”