AUSTIN (KXAN) — City government is currently reviewing the Austin Police Oversight Act, which voters passed in May, to see which provisions can be enacted without violating state law.
A ruling from the Attorney General’s Office on a public information request for the contents of an officer’s personnel file came down during Thursday’s council meeting, and the mayor and council discussed it in executive session. The ruling allowed for this information, which previously could not be released under state law, to be released in the specific case at hand.
“More clarity needs to be obtained,” said Mayor Kirk Watson. “I anticipate council will bring back another resolution very soon once we have clarity on that AG opinion that will allow the city to do more than what was originally anticipated.”
The root of this back and forth goes to the battle at the ballot box between two petitions titled “Austin Police Oversight Act.”
One was spearheaded by the advocacy group Equity Action. The other was written by Voters for Oversight and Police Accountability, which is backed by the Austin Police Association (APA). While both petitions contain many of the same points regarding the role of the Office of Police Oversight (OPO), Equity Action’s version has more provisions that give OPO more power. Equity Action’s version passed in the May election.
The Austin Police Association said the “unfettered” access the new ordinance now allows is in violation of state law.
“Where we want to be is in compliance with Prop A as much as possible,” said Mayor Watson during Thursday’s meeting.
According to Austin Police Association President Thomas Villarreal, state law grants the public access to personnel files on any misconduct that resulted in officer disciplinary action. But if an officer is found not to have violated APD policy or receive any disciplinary action, Villarreal said, that information cannot be released.
Multiple city departments are now reviewing the new ruling from the Attorney General’s Office to determine how to proceed with the implementation of the Austin Police Oversight Act.