AUSTIN (KXAN) — At Monday’s Austin’s Public Safety Commission, commissioners discussed allegations of racism and homophobia within the city’s police department on Monday. The commission voted to recommend that the council approve measures to further support efforts to investigate these allegations and the culture within Austin Police Department.
This comes after Austin City Manager Spencer Cronk approved an outside investigation into anonymous complaints that APD leadership was aware of disturbing behavior by department leaders but failed to report it. The complaint includes allegations that former Assistant Chief Justin Newsom used racist language over the course of ten years. The complaints also include allegations that Austin Police Chief Brian Manley supported Assistant Chief Troy Gay in forcing someone to attend Christian gay conversion therapy.
The city has already hired a third-party investigator to carry this effort out. Assistant Chief Troy Gay said at the meeting Monday that this third-party investigation is underway and that he had received an email this morning letting him know he’d be interviewed for the investigation next week.
The Austin Police Department also faces a lawsuit from a detective that claims APD “has a pattern and practice of discriminating against African-Americans.”
The Austin City Council will discuss a resolution this Thursday which, among other things, calls for pausing police cadet classes while APD’s hiring protocols are audited. The resolution supports the current independent investigation into the allegations and also calls for the city to investigate the extent to which racism and discrimination may be impacting APD.
The commission voted to recommend that the council approve this resolution, but is also asking the council to add an amendment that would allow the February APD cadet class to graduate as planned.
The Austin Police Association told KXAN Sunday that the department has 171 vacancies. APD leaders confirmed at the meeting Monday that there is still a freeze on any transfers in the department.
Austin Police Department and the Austin Police Association have been vocal in recent years about the need for more officers among their ranks and the difficulties the department has had in retaining employees.
If passed, the resolution states that cadet classes should be able to start back up again no later than September of 2020.
Commissioners emphasized that they want the city to ensure the investigations into both alleged and potential racism or discrimination at APD happen in a “multi-pronged” way.
“The allegations detailed in the police oversight report are alarming,” said Commission Chair Ed Scruggs via a statement, calling for monthly public updates on the findings from these investigations and the suggested reforms.
Commissioner Meghan Hollis, told police leaders, “it’s not a training issue, its a culture issue, and it starts from the top, and it has got to stop with you guys.”
“I am abhorred by the lack of response I’ve seen out of the police department,” she said.
Hollis told the commission she has spoken with some APD officers who’ve said, “they have been denied promotion opportunities because of the color of their skin.”
“That is absolutely unacceptable and it cannot happen here,” Hollis said.
Commissioner Chris Harris made it clear early on he supported the pausing of APD cadet classes.
“I agree that this house is on fire and before we bring people in, we don’t need to just put out the fire, we should fix the house,” Harris said.
Harris suggested that the changes this resolution is calling for may actually help APD to improve its retention rate with the police academy.
The Public Safety Commission advises the city council about budget and policy related to public safety in the city and makes recommendations. It meets each month and December’s meeting begins at 4 p.m. Monday.
Update on city’s sexual harassment policy
The Public Safety Commission will also hear an update about sexual harassment policies in Austin public safety departments. That stems from a 2017 audit of the city’s harassment, discrimination and retaliation investigation practices.
It found a lack of a proactive training program for all employees investigating discrimination, harassment or retaliation; insufficient guidance for personnel investigations; and ineffective utilization of technology to manage and track complaints – limiting the city’s management and oversight abilities.
At Monday’s meeting, the commission voted to recommend that the council take measures to better support victims of harassment and discrimination who may be reporting allegations to Austin Fire Department. The commission also voted to recommend that the council delay the Williamson County Automatic-Aid agreement as the Austin fire Association is recommending.