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