AUSTIN (KXAN) — The Austin Police Department still does not have a new contract, as city leaders voted just before midnight to send the contract back to negotiations, something many in a big crowd that gathered at Austin City Hall called on council members to do.
Council requested a new contract be presented to them by the end of March. Previously, the Austin Police Association said before Wednesday’s vote that if the contract was rejected, it would not go back to the negotiating table. KXAN reached out to the group for comment Thursday morning but has not yet heard back.
More than 250 people signed up to speak during public testimony on the contract. At one point it was standing room only and the room was at capacity.
Austin police supporters showed up wearing “Keep Austin Safe” blue t-shirts, while those who oppose the contract came to the meeting with handmade signs saying “lies,” which they held up whenever they disagreed with a speakers comments.
More than a dozen groups came to the meeting opposing the APD contract and saying it costs too much, arguing the city should instead use the $82.5 million that would go towards the contract to address what they call systematic inequities.
“We need to redirect this money to people who need mental health for people who want parks and pools and places to go for people who need substance abuse help,” said one speaker.
The police officers’ union says the lack of a contract will have serious impacts on the department, including the possibility of 300 retirements that could happen by the end of the month.
“This is something we’ve worked on for over 11 months with the city, we’ve bargained in good faith and our officers deserve this, they live in a very dangerous world,” said Ken Casaday, president of the Austin Police Association.
The current proposed contract includes a 9.5 percent raise for officers over the five-year contract term, along with a stipend for patrol officers that would allow high-ranking, more experienced officers to return to patrol.
Many people attending raised concerns about the lack of transparency and police oversight in the contract. Members of the group Campaign Zero, which seeks to address police violence nationwide, claim Austin’s new police contract is one of the nation’s least accountable based on studies the group has done.
“This is an accountability process, what’s going on right here and we will follow it til the bitter end,” one speaker said.
Police supporters argue there are changes in the contract allowing people to make complaints against officers online and anonymously.
“If people were hesitant to make a complaint on an officer, I believe this opens the door to hold us accountable for our actions,” an officer said.
The contract would also change rules limiting the window of time that leaders at APD have to investigate officer misconduct allegations. The rules under the new contract would make it so leaders would have 180 days from the moment a chief or assistant chief learns of the incident if the misconduct is possibly criminal including excessive force issues.
Any other policy violations will still have to be investigated within 180 days from the date of the possible violation.