If an Austin Police Department employee fails to properly handle a complaint filed against an officer, he or she will face at least a 15-day suspension up to an indefinite suspension, APD Police Chief Art Acevedo announced Oct. 26. This decision follows an audit of APD which Acevedo requested and was led by assistant city auditor Katie Houston and supervising senior auditor Andrew Keegan.
According to Brian Manley, APD’s chief of staff, the auditors found supervisors did not always fully process complaints if they were resolved between the officer and the civilian. APD policy, however, requires supervisors to forward every complaint to internal affairs whether they are resolved or not.
“Policy clearly states that if you are called to the scene and you handle a citizen complaint, when you’re done with that, you will forward a complaint contact form to internal affairs,” Manley said. “Allegedly, we had supervisors telling the auditors that they did not always follow that.”
Manley said although APD has a thorough complaint process, the department requested the audit to make sure they are doing things the right way.
“This is an issue that cuts to the core of the public trust,” Manley said. “We have a very strong system to police ourselves, but it only works if we follow it. We have to have supervisors that are following our own policies, especially when it comes to investigating complaints against police officers.”
Acevedo said he hopes this change in disciplinary action will encourage people to follow the policy more closely.
“There will never be a 100 percent guarantee that people are going to follow policy,” Acevedo said in the Audit and Finance Committee meeting on Oct. 26. “I’m convinced that people are smart. They know that when they see [the punishment], the vast majority of folks are going to do the right thing.”
According to Houston, the Office of the Police Monitor was not able to completely oversee APD operations because supervisors did not record all of the complaints.
Police monitor Margo Frasier said while Acevedo didn’t change any policy, he did change the severity of the punishment for violating that policy. As a result, Frasier said her office has received significantly more complainant contact forms from supervisors.
“I would hope that the supervisors will continue to be diligent and to follow the policy,” Frasier said. “It’s all about making sure the public understands and that we have some follow through and transparency.”
Houston said the biggest hurdle facing the complaint process is a lack of information about how the process works and how someone can file a complaint.
“There’s an avenue for you to come forward with that information when you feel it’s essential, and people don’t really know that,” Houston said. “On the front end, we can identify some barriers in place that may prevent one from coming forward when they have a complaint.”
Frasier said many students likely don’t know what the complaint process is or how it works.
“I’d be willing to bet that the vast majority of students at The University of Texas do not understand that if they have a problem with an Austin police officer that they can call us,” Frasier said. “Whenever [students] have had an issue in the past, they went and told mommy and daddy.”