Sunday, February 12, 2023

City of Austin and Austin Police Association Reach Four-Year Agreement in Principle


Police oversight provisions ‘likely to become a model across Texas and the nation’ 

Austin City Manager Spencer Cronk today announced an agreement in principle between the City of Austin and the Austin Police Association for a four-year contract following almost a year of negotiations. 

The contract incorporates the goals of attaining a stable environment for Austin Police officers, aggressive recruitment and retention strategies, and a progressive police oversight provision. The agreement is subject to City Council approval. 

The draft agreement in principle can be viewed HERE

“Keeping our city safe is the most important priority for local governments. And having a strong, well-staffed police department is critical in achieving that goal,” said City Manager Cronk. “We already have a best-in-class police department and I want to thank all the men and women who serve every day for our community.  

“But having a solid agreement with our Police Association is another critical step in keeping our department reliable for years to come. This agreement incorporates the goals of attaining a stable environment for Austin police officers, attractive recruitment and retention strategies, and progressive police oversight provisions that are likely to become a model across Texas and the nation.” 

Austin Police Chief Joseph Chacon said he was excited about reaching an agreement that will have such a positive impact on the department and the City.   

“We find ourselves with an agreement that, once approved, will both provide significant enhancements to the pay and benefits of the police officers as well as powerful improvements to the police department operations,” Chacon said. “Officer retention is an issue for every police department right now, and this agreement will lock in officer rights and benefits for the next four years, providing the stability and assurance that officers require to be able to effectively do their jobs, and providing the greatest opportunity for the City of Austin to not only retain the high-quality officers it has but also to recruit the best and brightest talent for the future.” 

The agreement also includes provisions that allow the City’s Office of Police Oversight (OPO) to investigate complaints against police officers during both the preliminary and formal investigative process. It will allow OPO to be in the room, asking questions and getting answers from the officers. 

“The Austin Police Association is not afraid of oversight,” said Austin Police Association President Thomas Villarreal. “We believe very strongly that the citizens of Austin, the City of Austin itself, the department, and our members are all better off under contract. We’ve worked for almost a year to negotiate a fair deal for our people, and a deal that’s fair for the City. And I think that we got there.” 

Across-the-Board Pay Increases for Officers 
The agreement represents a 14% increase for Austin Police Officers over four years with a total value of $64.7 million. To improve recruitment and retention, “we have utilized a creative approach that puts our money where our mouth is and gives further across-the-board increases of 1.5% to officers each year respectively if the City is not able to meet its hiring goals,” said the City’s Interim Labor Relations Officer Sarah Griffin.  

The City’s goal would be to hire 200 officers by year end of 2024 and an additional 200 officers the following year ending 2025, Griffin said. Additionally, to retain officers, the agreement creates an additional step pay increase to officers who have reached 23 years of service with the department as an incentive for those officers to stay. The agreement also includes a groundbreaking pilot program for promotions that includes a probationary component.  

The overall three-part solution is made up of a City Council Ordinance exercising the Manager’s authority in conjunction with the City Charter and State law, the contract itself, and changes in policy by the Police Chief. All will work together to mirror the Equity Action petition goals as closely as possible in the context of collective bargaining. 

The parties will meet again to finalize the language of this agreement in principle. The agreement will then be considered by the City Council, which has been briefed regularly on the City’s timelines and goals as the negotiations progressed over the last year. The Austin Police Association members will also take a vote to approve the agreement.    

Four-Year Contract Critical to Achieving Goals 

Last week, the City Manager raised concerns about an alternative proposal for a one-year rather than a longer-term four-year contract. In a memo to Mayor and Council, Cronk wrote that a one-year contract “may actually weaken our civilian oversight program in the long run and undo the very significant gains that the City and our community stakeholders have worked to achieve over the past 20 years”.  

He added that, after speaking with Chief Chacon, he was concerned that a short-term contract, providing potential recruits with the appearance of unstable labor/management relations, would “do damage” to APD’s recruiting and retention efforts.  

“We look forward to talking to our Council, our community and the members of the Association regarding this agreement, and look forward for their support,” Cronk added.