Austin police fear mass exodus of retirees if contract voted down

The concern is mass retirements within the department

AUSTIN - The Austin City Council will decide the fate of the Austin Police Department's new labor contract next week, but there are concerns about what that might mean for officers.

Under the current contract, police officers can get paid up to 1,700 hours in sick time they haven't used; it's a benefit in their current contract and is included in the new proposal.

Officials said if it isn't approved -- they fear officers eligible to retire will leave before the end of the year instead of losing that money.

Austin police numbers show 149 officers across all ranks are now eligible to retire with 23 years of service.

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Interim Police Chief Brian Manley said if they all left before the end of the year -- the city would have to pay them $16.2 million: a cost the city has not planned for.

Groups such as the Austin Justice Coalition say the contract doesn't include enough benefit to citizens and that the council should reject it. Director Chas Moore said police are overstating concerns of a mass exodus.

"I just think that is a scare tactic that the police association is using to kind of encourage the city council to vote for the contract," said Moore.

But Austin Police Union President Ken Casaday said he disagrees.

"That would be a vote of no confidence on me, and our association, our city management and the chief of police, and that's not what we need in this community right now," said Casaday.

Chief Manley said that if a large group of officers retires, the city could also be forced to fill their positions using overtime. It could also have to reassign detectives to the street. 

The police force has already thrown its support behind the contract, as has the city's public safety commission -- which gives input to the council.

The city council is set to vote on the contract next Wednesday, in a closely watched special meeting.

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