Austin Police Association Demonstrates the Problem with Reform

A few days ago, voters in Austin Texas overwhelmingly decided that they wanted more civilian oversight of their police department. I’ve often heard Austin described as an oasis of progressiveness, and this vote seems to support that. Even in progressive cities, police still tend to operate with little to no meaningful accountability, and so a people in Austin set about trying to change that. As the movement supporting the change puts it:

Under Austin’s current oversight system, the police are responsible for investigating themselves. Prop A will ensure that investigations include civilians with fact-finding ability.

Prop A will ensure any future police contract contains strong oversight provisions to hold police accountable and deter misconduct like excessive force.

Prop A will ensure that accountability and oversight are required in every police contract, bringing stability and predictability to the oversight system and focusing bargaining on pay and benefits.

Court settlements related to police misconduct cost city taxpayers almost $20 million last year and millions more just last week. Prop A will reduce those costs by ensuring there is a strong deterrence for misconduct.

At the same time, the police proposed their own changes, and really managed to demonstrate how much they’re in tune with community concerns:

Prop B is Even Worse than What We Have Now.

  • It eliminates anonymous complaints. Currently anonymous complaints allow police officers and the public to report misconduct without fear of retaliation, and they are doing so.
  • The civilian oversight system will not have access to information about every incident or complaint, and will not be able to actively participate in classifying or investigating complaints.
  • It expands the felony prohibition on membership on the oversight panel to include people with certain misdemeanors as well.
  • The only way the city will be able to strengthen oversight will be through the police contract and with agreement by the police union, a system that has failed residents for decades now.
  • In testimony FOR legislation to block all civilian oversight systems in Texas from unfettered access to information about incidents, APA President Thomas Villareal said, in no uncertain terms, that civilians should have no role in oversight of police.

Still, the voters spoke overwhelmingly, with 79% of voters supporting Prop A, and 80% of voters opposing prop B. That means that, according to law, Austin will now have greater civilian oversight of police, and greater accountability when it comes to police misconduct. In response, the Austin Police Association has demonstrated why cops aren’t workers, and cop unions are in direct conflict with the interests of the working class. See, a union protects its workers against abuse and overreach by bosses, but in the case of a police union, they’re protecting the police from us. Police unions work to ensure that, as enforcers of the rich and powerful, they are not accountable to the peasantry. With that as context, what do you think the APA had to say about this change in law?

The Austin Police Association is aware of the election results and is taking immediate action to determine the city’s intentions regarding the implementation and enforcement of the illegal provisions contained in Prop A. The APA simply will not stand by while this city and anti-police activists operate with blatant disregard for state law and the rights and protections afforded to our hardworking men and women. The APA continues to prioritize negotiating a long-term contract; however, we will not be forced back to the table under a structure in which a new city ordinance attempts to unlawfully interfere with the statutory rights associated with the meet and confer process. We look forward to finding these answers so that we can get back under a long-term contract that allows for our police department to recruit hire and retain the best and brightest people who wish to serve this community in a law enforcement capacity.

Get it? Law and order means that the cops are the law, and we follow their orders. If we try to reign them in, our authority is, by that very action, illegitimate. They pretend to care about the rules that nominally govern society, but when they lose, that pretense evaporates.

This is why police reform doesn’t work – because the police actively work against it every step of the way, and like it or not, our society gives them a huge amount of power and deference. To take another example, requiring officers to wear body cameras doesn’t really do any good if they keep turning them off or hiding footage when they don’t want a record of what they’re doing. These people are a problem for society, and it’s pretty clear that when it comes to democracy, they think they know better. We’ll see how their efforts to avoid oversight play out in the coming months, but even if they lose every legal battle they pick, I fully expect cops to continue acting as if they are personifications of the law, rather than servants of it. They are a class of people set above the ordinary rabble, and they value that privilege and power more than anything. I’m willing to bet that for a great many of them, that power is what drew them to the profession in the first place, which makes them the worst possible people to have it.

Despite my pessimism, I do hope that Prop A is enforced, and that it makes a difference. Police are out of control in the US, and while I think that some of that is inherent to the nature of their job, abolishing them is going to be a long-term project. Anything that reduces the harm they cause in the short term has my support.


  1. lanir says

    When the biggest gang in town starts suggesting that if they don’t get their way, they’ll leave…

    I know, they’re not doing that yet. But I doubt this will change until a few high profile issues like this get resolved by chucking the entire department and making sure the new one isn’t as corrupt. Too bad Reagan didn’t have a thing for police unions instead of air traffic controller unions. He might’ve actually stumbled into doing something useful.

  2. sonofrojblake says

    If vegetables don’t get to eat us, how come we get to eat them?

    You seem to be labouring under the misapprehension that you’re in some way equal to the police, rather than being one of the peasants they control.

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