Austin Police Monitor listens to your complaints

By Alonso Reyna

The news has been plagued by reports about numerous police shootings, police violence and abuse of power. But Austin has a department that helps prevent tragedies, abusive officers and racial profiling.

The Austin Police Monitor is the only independent department in the state of Texas funded entirely by taxpayers and to exclusively serve the city of Austin. It handles complaints, concerns, suggestions and even compliments that citizens may have of any police enforcement official.

Austin Police Department has 2,646 sworn officials, and in 2015, the Austin Police Monitor, received 1,134 calls regarding a complaint against members of the police department. That’s almost half the total of sworn officials. Ultimately, 552 complaints were officially filed.

“We always welcome people to file complaints, concerns or any accommodations if needed,” said Mia Demers, communication spokesperson and executive assistant to the director of the department.

Victor Longoria, an Austin resident, said that the process was easy, and the staff was helpful when he called regarding questions he had about the police department.

“It took two calls, but when they answered, they were helpful,” Longoria said. “They directed me through the process.”

A trained staff member evaluates the complaint and puts it in one of two categories.

The first category is Supervisory Inquiry, which is reserved for less serious allegations or to make Austin PD policy clarifications. If the complaint is deemed more serious, it goes to the second category.

The second category is a Formal Investigation. By this time, the caller has to present identification and the complaint is recorded, typed and notarized. An investigation is then launched and the Police Monitor reviews the findings for fairness.

Another option that the caller has is to have a mediator. This option will not submit any complaints and will not have any disciplinary actions. It is designed to have a neutral mediator where both parties have the opportunity to express concerns and make clarifications.

The department also wants undocumented minorities to feel safe when filing a grievance.

“We don’t ever ask anyone for a citizenship, that’s not of any concern to us because we are not a law enforcement agency,” Demers said.

Longoria said that when he contacted the department, they didn’t ask for any identification.

“They told me I was required to present an identification only if the complaint was found to violate a policy and if an affidavits was done,” Longoria said.

To facilitate the process and inform all of the population, the department works with several languages, including Spanish, Vietnamese, Thai, Mandarin and Arabic. Citizens can find Austin Police Monitor brochures of information around the city at community centers.

Whites file the most complaints, followed by African Americans and Latinos. Spanish is the second most spoken language, with Chinese language in third. For this reason, the department is working on promoting the department with every community.

But promoting the department is not easy. Diversity and different languages complicate marketing.

“Hermelinda Zamarripa is the only person who reaches out to the entire community, not just a population,” Demers said. “That person is responsible for promoting the agency.”

Graph that shows the percent of calls the Austin Police Monitor receives by ethnicity, 2015. Data gathered from Graph by Alonso Reyna.

Demers said that she wants the general population and all communities were more informed about the department and that the department works for the people.

Anyone wanting to voice their ideas, suggestions or wants to simply congratulate the police department or an official on issues like response times can contact the Austin Police Monitor at (512) 974–9090.

“We encourage anyone who ever has a question, a concern or a compliment, to call us or to email us as soon as possible,” Demers said. “We don’t want to wait until citizens get too tired to care.”