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Sunday, January 29, 2023

Police Unions and Civilian Oversight

Organized labor in general has fallen on hard times.  But in many places, public-employee unions retain enormous power.

Jamiles Lartey at the Marhsall Project:
If you heard about a group called “Voters for Oversight and Police Accountability,” who would you guess is funding and coordinating its efforts? Progressive activists? Civic-minded community members?

How about a police union?

That’s the situation in Austin, Texas, where this fall, canvassers for “VOPA” appear to have amassed the 25,000 signatures needed to get a referendum on the so-called “Austin Police Oversight Act” into the city’s May 6 election.

The thing is, there was already an “Austin Police Oversight Act” on the ballot. The duplicate effort, funded by the Austin Police Association, is similar — but seriously watered down, when compared with the original promoted by the progressive political action committee Equity Action. That original proposal seeks to open up public access to police records, and give the city’s office of police oversight the ability to participate in investigations of officer conduct.

By contrast, the police union-funded ballot initiative would keep certain misconduct records hidden from the public and leave the board with a more passive role in investigations.

Reporting late last year found that the police union was running VOPA’s website, and this week, a reporter with the Austin Chronicle uncovered that the union had contributed virtually every penny of the nearly $300,000 raised for the campaign. The union did not respond to a request for comment from The Marshall Project, and has not responded to a request from the local Fox affiliate.

The effort appears to be a brazen version of something police unions have attempted in numerous cities recently: to derail and disempower civilian oversight groups tasked with monitoring and reviewing police conduct.