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'Accountability and transparency are important' | Community launches campaign in support of more police oversight

Austin voters will decide whether to approve two different police oversight plans in May. We broke down the difference between the proposals.

AUSTIN, Texas — The Austin Police Association's contract with the City of Austin ends on March 31. The mayor and some councilmembers say they shouldn't sign a new contract before voters weigh in on two dueling propositions on police oversight. The election is set for May 6. 

On Tuesday, Austin City Council members and community groups gathered in front of City Hall to launch a campaign supporting Proposition A and oppose B. 

What's the difference?

The group Equity Action started a petition to create the Austin Police Oversight Act (APOA), a new city ordinance intended to strengthen oversight of the Austin Police Department and encourage accountability for "officer misconduct." The council decided to send it to the voters as Prop A. 

That prompted the group "Voters for Oversight and Political Accountability," which is mostly funded by the Austin Police Association, to start its own petition to create an act with the same name, which will be Prop B on the ballot. 

The difference between the two is that Prop A contains more measures, specifically targets discrimination and gives the Office of Police Oversight more power. 

"We need the APOA, we need Prop A, to make sure people's rights are respected and that when there is a problem or complaint, it is addressed and steps are taken to address the issue," Councilmember José "Chito" Vela (District 4) said. "We need Prop A so the public can see what the police are doing and how they are policing us."

"The 'real' police oversight act – we will have unfettered access to information about incidents, from bodycam video to police reports to witness statements," said Yasmine Smith with the Austin Area Urban League.

KVUE reached out to Voters for Oversight and Police Accountability. The group sent our request to the Austin Police Association, which sent us this statement: 

"Prop A is fraught with legal issues that Equity Action, City Council and the City Manager know about. This is the sole reason Equity Action included a severability clause in their ordinance…they know parts of it are illegal for the City of Austin to act on if Prop A passes.

"Prop B gives the Citizens and the City the ability to incorporate oversight in a way that does not conflict with state law. It further solidifies certain portions of oversight into city ordinance and was written in a way to compliment the meet and confer process that must be used to resolve the legal problems that would otherwise exist.

Thomas Villarreal
Austin Police Association"

Still, more than 100 community organizations and leaders have signed onto Prop A. 

"Accountability and transparency are important and should be robust and stable. Remember, we fight for our civil rights at the voting booth," said Monica Guzmán with Go Austin/Vamos Austin.

The last day to register to vote in the May election is April 6. If you plan to vote by mail, you can request an application and ballot.

Isabella Basco on social media: Facebook | Twitter | Instagram 

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