Office of the Police Monitor

The number of complaints filed against Austin Police Department officers this year is expected to exceed the number of complaints filed in 2012, according to a recent report released by the Office of the Police Monitor. 

In the first half of 2013, 674 people contacted the police monitor’s office with the intent of filing a complaint, an increase of approximately 9 percent from the first half of 2012. If this year’s numbers continue to rise, it will be the first time in three years that the office has seen the number of complaints increase, according to the report.

The most common complaints the department received fell under the category “responsibility to the community,” which includes allegations related to lack of neutrality in civil actions, inappropriate search and seizure and bias-based profiling.

The office monitors all criticisms of APD and then provides information about those criticisms to the public. Police Monitor Margo Frasier said she is committed to promoting mutual respect between APD officers and the community they serve.

“I tell my staff that their job is to increase trust and transparency, and part of that is being able to explain to people why police officers do what they do,” Frasier said. 

Unlike APD, the UT Police Department does not have an independent police monitor office. Complaints are submitted through the department’s website.

UTPD Lieutenant Dennis Chartier said the UT System requires campus police to compile an annual statistical summary, available upon request to the public.

UTPD received a total of 10 complaints in 2012. Since 2006, the department has not received more than 50 complaints in a single year. 

Chartier said the department presents its complaint statistics to the UTPD Oversight Committee, a group of three students appointed by President William Powers Jr., in an annual meeting.

“It’s not a requirement, but something the chief offered [to do],” Chartier said. 

None of the 30 students The Daily Texan interviewed said they were aware submitting a complaint about a UTPD officer was possible, though some said were glad to learn they had the option.

“It’s important for every organization to have a place for constructive criticism,” biology junior Tania Joakim said. 

Taylor Bruner, a human development and family sciences junior, said she hoped students would not feel intimidated by law enforcement.

“Just because [police officers] have authority doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be able to call them out if necessary,” Bruner said.

Half of the complaints filed against UTPD last year were unfounded, meaning an investigation proved the allegation false, according to the UTPD report.

The four finalists in the running for the city’s next police monitor all seek to administer one change if selected for office: more public outreach.

The city created the position, along with a citizen review panel, in 2002 after a recommendation from the Police Oversight Focus Group. Since its inception, the Office of the Police Monitor, which is independent from the Austin Police Department, has handled public complaints against police officers, supervised the department’s Internal Affairs unit, has overseen practices and suggested policy changes within APD.

Sixty-six people applied for the position and four moved on as finalists. The four finalists are: Cristina Beamud, executive director of Atlanta’s Citizen Review Board; Margo Frasier, senior associate of MGT of America; Ann del Llano, family law attorney and owner of Capitol City Solutions; and Renita Sanders, Austin assistant police monitor.

Sanders said some complainants reached the police monitor’s office through friends’ advice or the city’s information hotline.

“They didn’t know we were there,” she said. “Social media would probably help, but we have to share with them who we are.”

Frasier said she believes the police monitor’s office should be more user-friendly, including having more accessible hours and locations for the public.

“I’ve looked at some of the statistics,” she said. “One of my concerns is that there is a tremendous amount of people that contact the monitor’s office and don’t get past that.”

The office needs to be completely transparent, and the public should voice their concerns about police officers and APD’s policies, said Frasier.

“We need to go back and have meetings to see what appears to be working and what doesn’t, and see if there are any changes that need to take place to see if the system is unjust,” Frasier said.

The police monitor’s office has looked at individual complaints, but also policy issues, del Llano said.

“If I’m monitor, I’m going to look at more policy issues, like racial profiling and others,” she said. “The monitor’s office’s staff can look at best practices nationwide, bring them forward and later make recommendations to the chief.”

Former police monitor Cliff Brown held the office for nearly four years. Brown will resign this month and replace Judge Wilford Flowers as the judge of the 147th district court in Travis County.

City manager Marc Ott is expected to select someone for the position later this month.