AUSTIN (KXAN) — The Office of Police Oversight (OPO) asked the Austin Police Department (APD) to investigate 220 out of 2,239 community complaints in 2021, according to the latest annual report released Thursday.
The report states APD investigated 90 of the 220 complaints and 16 resulted in sustained policy violations.
OPO says specialists sort the total complaints into five different categories:
- Not applicable to OPO
- Community concern
- OPO Supervisor Referral
- Formal Complaint
- No Policy Violation
APD provided the following statement in response to the report.
While we are still reviewing the specifics of the report, it’s important to note that as a progressive and transparent agency, we will always seek to identify and highlight opportunities for improvement.APD Public Information Office
An OPO spokesperson says the office sent complaints that fell under community concern, OPO supervisor referral and formal complaint to APD.
But when we called OPO to dig deeper into the report, a spokesperson told KXAN this process “fundamentally changed” following an arbitration decision – which the office disagrees with – in December 2021. A spokesperson said the decision limits how much OPO specialists can communicate with complainants – so the office can’t provide status updates on complaints directly to complainants; and OPO can no longer sort through the complaints and determine which ones it believes APD should take a closer look at and has to send all complaints to APD.
We asked APD about how the process has gone since these changes were implemented, but the department did not answer the specific questions we asked.
According to APD’s 2020 General Orders, it receives external complaints in three ways: complaints made directly to employees supervisors, complaints made through OPO and complaints made directly to APD Internal Affairs. The policy also states that “complaints of a serious nature require the immediate notification of an available supervisor. Serious complaints must be initially investigated by the rank or sergeant above.”
Fifteen of the 90 officers investigated retired in 2021 while under investigation, compared to 11 who retired in 2020 and two in 2019. According to the OPO, the internal APD investigation into officers with OPO complaints stops when they retire.
The 2021 report shows that “Thank You” messages for officers submitted to the OPO have increased since 2019. Overall community complaints dropped from 2020 to 2021. See the graph below.
In 2021, OPO hosted five town halls to gather feedback on police actions from the community. Such events continued in 2022.