Austin Police Chief Art Acevedo on Wednesday announced that he will now suspend and possibly fire any police supervisor who fails to report all complaints against officers to internal affairs.
Acevedo made the announcement in the wake of an audit of police complaintsthat found several supervisors violated Austin Police Department policy by not forwarding all complaints made against officers to the department’s Internal Affairs unit for further investigation.
“We have instituted a change to our disciplinary matrix that has placed our supervisors on notice,” Acevedo said at an Austin City Council committee meeting.
Acevedo has been calling on command staff and supervisors to be arbiters of change in a department that continues to experience fallout from controversial use-of-force incidents, including the violent arrest of schoolteacher Breaion King in 2015 and the fatal shooting of naked teenager David Joseph in February.
In that environment, Acevedo has intensified scrutiny of his command staff and middle management in recent months.
On Friday, he suspended and demoted two veteran supervisors in the chain of command of downtown officers who used force on a restrained man during 2016’s South by Southwest Music Festival. Behind closed doors, the chief has also talked tough to department staff.
In a secret recording obtained by the American-Statesman, Acevedo angrily addressed the handling of the King incident and how officers reacted to his firing of an officer who killed Joseph.
During Wednesday’s meeting at City Hall, Acevedo elaborated on his outburst with police commanders. He told the council members there — Leslie Pool, Sabino “Pio” Renteria and Kathie Tovo — that he really was “addressing only two to three” of his command staff, Acevedo said.
Last month, the city released a draft audit report of how police handle police complaints. The audit examined more than two years of records, consisting of about 1,200 complaints filed by residents and police officers. It found faults at multiple levels in the complaint process and barriers to filing complaints. The audit revealed problems with how police document complaints and how the Office of the Police Monitor can maintain oversight of the process.
In a memo to the committee, Acevedo wrote that several of the recommendations were almost immediately adopted. For instance, Acevedo extended the retention time for videos showing police action from 90 to 181 days because the audit found that some complaints were made after videos had already been deleted.
Despite the immediate changes, the audit exposed how state law and terms in the police union contract constrain what information about complaints becomes public. In particular, people who make complaints against officers are only privy to the specifics of any resulting investigation if an officer is suspended. Complainants would be left in the dark if police chose less punitive actions, such as counseling or an oral reprimand.
Council members said some of the lack of communication could be resolved. They noted the controversial use of force against a jaywalking woman near the University of Texas campus that Acevedo called a “brouhaha” and a complaint against Austin police union president Ken Casaday made after he was caught on camera punching a man while working on Sixth Street.
The department announced that it would investigate those incidents, but their findings were never announced publicly. Wrongdoing was not found in either case.
“I think there is value in going back to the public and saying here is what was done,” Police Monitor Margo Frasier said.