What to do about the cops?

Council only has bad options.

Council scheduled to fire Cronk Wednesday: The special called meeting Council is holding on Wednesday to take up the police contract is going to be even specialer. On Saturday two items were added to the agenda. One is an executive session discussion of the city manager's employment and the other is a public item to "authorize payment of severance benefits to City Manager Spencer Cronk." The only question that remains is whether Cronk will resign first. His contract stipulates he qualifies for full severance (a year's salary plus 6 months of COBRA payments) if he is fired or "forced to resign," which strikes me as a rather amorphous concept.

e-bikes create new bikers: A survey of 1,000 people who have gotten discounted e-bikes through Denver's wildly popular e-bike program reveals that 30% previously didn't bike at all. I'm telling ya, e-bikes are a game-changer. If we build the bike infrastructure necessary to make people feel safe, e-bikes will allow even hot and hilly Austin to attain previously unfathomable levels of bike use. Again, it's not about everybody biking. Getting 10% of the population to make some of their regular trips by bike would be huge in terms of reduced pollution, reduced stress on roads and healthier, happier people.

Slight majority of Austin wants more cops, big majority wants more accountability: A poll conducted by the Austin Monitor & Notley finds 53% of Austin voters believe the city has too few cops, while 31% say we have the right number and 16% say we have too many. Asked to identify top priorities in a new police contract, by far the most popular (72%) was "accountability and transparency" for police misconduct. Next was "civilian oversight" (40%) and "pay raises for officers" (29%).  

What's Council's least bad option on the police contract?

City Council doesn't have many good choices on resolving the police contract.

To review...

Soon-to-be-fired City Manager Spencer Cronk announced Wednesday night that the city had reached a tentative 4-year agreement with the police union that would offer some improvement in civilian oversight over the status quo but would fall far short of the Austin Police Oversight Act, which voters will have a chance to approve in May.

This came after most members of Council, including Mayor Kirk Watson, had signaled support for a one-year contract, reasoning that a long-term contract should not be negotiated until voters are able to express their views on police accountability.

The police union and city manager have dismissed the APOA as largely symbolic, pointing out that state law prohibits some of its provisions from being implemented unless they are agreed to as part of a police union contract. APOA supporters argue that certain parts of the ordinance could be implemented immediately and other parts of it will serve as a framework for the city in future negotiations with the union: it instructs the city to not agree to any contract that doesn't include these provisions.

The cost of greater oversight

On Wednesday, Council will once again take up a resolution authored by Chito Vela that instructs the city to negotiate a one-year contract with the police association. With Vela's support, Watson added an amendment instructing staff to offer the cops a hefty raise. He didn't propose a specific figure, but he has made clear that it should be a bigger raise than cops would have expected in the next year under a four-year contract. He also added a number of specific financial incentives (incentive pay for x,z,y, step increases at certain years of service etc) based on past requests from the police union. The idea is to buy the cops' cooperation on oversight.

The thing is, offering the cops a big raise one year doesn't just increase the city's costs for one year. It sets the baseline for negotiations on a long-term contract. For instance, it would be very hard for the city to give them a big raise one year and then get the cops to agree to no pay increase for the first couple years of a subsequent four-year contract.