Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Understanding "G" Files in Austin

"G" files is the term used to refer to the secret police misconduct files here in Austin. "G files” include misconduct complaints submitted against Austin police officers by citizens or by other officers and the files of subsequent investigations. Currently, only about 3% to 7% of these files are available to the public in Austin because the file is available for public inspection only in cases in which the officer was found guilty AND was disciplined with 3 or more days of leave. Any less discipline than a 3-day suspension and the whole file is secret.

Why does Austin accept this relatively low level of transparency with respect to its police? Austin voters voted to "opt in” to Chapter 143 of the Civil Service Code along with about 70 other Texas cities, including Houston and San Antonio, in 1949. At the time Austin voters “opted in” to the Civil Service Code, the “G” files were public—it was decades after Austin voters had voted to “opt in” to the Civil Service Code when the police unions successfully lobbied the Texas Legislature to get the Civil Service Code changed to make the “G” files secret. All Chapter 143 cities follow the same guidelines about police "G" files, unless they have used meet and confer contract negotiations to override these civil service rules.

It is important for comparison purposes to note that over 2,000 other Texas law enforcement agencies, including the Travis County Sheriff's Department, are not under Chapter 143 and thus have close to 100% of their "G" files available to the public.

One common point of confusion in Austin is whether or not this issue is governed by state law. Although Austin has opted to be governed by Chapter 143 civil service, a “state law,” another state law allows the City of Austin to override any state law in its "meet and confer" labor contract with the police association. Therefore, in Austin, the City literally chooses which parts of the state civil service law it will agree to follow and which parts it will agree to override with the meet and confer agreement. Simply put, the City of Austin is governed by whichever state laws it chooses in the meet and confer contract.

Greater Transparency in "G" Files

There is a clear public interest in allowing access to "G" files, specifically the ability to:
  • Understand performance patterns of individual police officers
  • Understand overall performance patterns of the police force in Austin
  • Understand the management responses to complaints in general as well as certain types of complaints in detail create protection for complainants who are less likely to suffer retribution when there is a public record that they have filed a complaint against the police
Early voting is May 1-9. Election Day is May 13th.


At 5:12 PM, Blogger Got out of Texas said...

In 2004 Officer Steve Christian, off duty, in civilian clothes, with no squad car or any type of police identification, attacked me as I exited my vehicle during a dispute with my former husband. He threw me face down onto the concrete (causing my cell phone, with which I planned to call police, to go flying across the parking lot), sat on me with his knee in my back, banged my head into the pavement, and strangled me (while I was already having difficulty breathing due to the "chokehold" he had me in and the fact that he was sitting on top of me with my being face down on the pavement. He did not identify himself as an officer, did not make any statement to the effect that I was under arrest, and at one point identified himself as "hotel security" (the hotel did not employ security). Three separate witnesses contacted 911 reporting a black male in dark sweatsuit handcuffing, beating, and choking a white or hispanic female. I have these 911 calls on tape. When police and emergency personnel arrived on the scene (in response to these calls), Mr. Christiansen refused to identify himself and responding officers were forced to contact his saergent to identify him. Mr. Christiansen wanted to walk away without identifying himself. This interaction between Mr. Christiansen and responding officers was recorded on police radio (of which I also have a copy). He made no arrest and filed no report in this matter. In the official report filed by responding officers, Mr. Christiansen was identified only as "W" for witness. His conduct, and responding officer's conduct, was in clear violation of SAPD policy and procedure and the U.S. constitution. When I was treated at the hospital for injuries, a police saergent stated that I would not have been injured had I shut up and complied with Mr. Christian's wishes - and that I should have "assumed" I was under arrest when Mr. Christian (a black male in civilian clothing with no police ID who did not claim to be a police officer or ever state that I was being arrested) "handcuffed me". I responded by telling this saergent that every judge in the U.S. would be appalled at his suggestion that a civilian female submit to any male with handcuffs, because, according to his logic, the act of being handcuffed was the equivalent of being arrested. I told him he was insane, and that if society were to follow his logic, every pervert, murderer, and rapist (including rogue cops) would have an unlimited supply of victims, and women would have no protection under the law from these nutcases. An IA investigation was determined as "inconclusive". Never was an explanation given as to what Mr. Christian was doing at the hotel, why Mr. Christiansen attacked me, why, if he was acting on legitimate law enforcement business, did he fail to identify himself or place me under arrest, why, after he handcuffed me, he continued to beat and strangle me, why he failed to file a report in the matter, why he was not identified in the report, and why he was not arrested for assaulting me. There are details too numerous to mention in this e-mail, but I am alleging multiple violations of my civil rights against Mr. Christian and the SAPD.


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