Archive for the ‘Austin’ Category

A few notes from the police blotter…

Thursday, September 15th, 2016

…or, in this case, sort of the blotter.

The City of Austin approved a budget for next fiscal year in an 8-2 vote. The approved budget “will charge the typical resident about $87 more in city taxes and fees next year”.

And what will we get for the money?

Next year’s operations include a 2 percent pay increase for city employees, to kick in during the pay period before Christmas. There’s funding for a new curbside composting program, at a cost of $4.2 million to the city and a phased-in cost of $64.80 to homeowners after five years. There’s $600,000 more for housing aimed at reducing homelessness.

But the news isn’t all bad. The city is hiring eight new employees to do DNA testing. (But the lab is relying on grant money and whatever they can scrounge elsewhere to actually get the testing done.) And the Transportation Department is hiring 13 new people, “most of which will be dedicated to traffic signal timing”. Traffic signal timing? In Austin? You don’t say.

And what of the cops? What of APD’s request for more officers?

In the new budget, Adler explained, Austin will add 52 emergency service workers, 12 police officers, 21 civilian police staff and 38 development service employees intended to speed up Austin’s notoriously arduous permitting and building inspection process.

Exactly what the city manager asked for. (Well, the cops and police staff anyway: I don’t know about the development staff.)

As a side note, I mentioned when I was taking the Citizen’s Police Academy class earlier this year that we got to go on a tour of the forensics lab. I’m attending CPA again this fall, but as an alumnus rather than a student. (What this means in practice is that I’m basically volunteering to help set stuff up before the class, knock things down after the class, and sit in the back and keep my mouth shut during the class.)

Point of this digression: the lab tour isn’t being offered to CPA students this time around.

In other news, the APD suspended an officer for 20 days for improper use of a stun gun: specifically, the officer tasered a restrained person.

The other part of the story: the guy who was Tasered is the same guy who got pepper-sprayed in the back of the police van.

Wilson had been arrested on suspicion of public intoxication. At the booking facility, Wilson was restrained with handcuffs and a set of belly chain handcuffs, but later stood up from a chair and argued with several officers. Wilson refused to remain seated and a struggle ensued, the memo said.
Jimenez fired her stun gun once at Wilson, discharging a five-second pulse as the struggle concluded, the memo said.

Apparently, Tasering a handcuffed possibly drunk guy who is struggling with officers is FROWNED UPON IN THIS ESTABLISHMENT!

Jimenez admitted during her disciplinary review hearing that she should have used less violent means to control Wilson. She expressed regret for her actions, the memo said.

No appeal is once again part of the deal.

And from the department of “play stupid games, win stupid prizes”: the APD shot and killed a guy earlier today. The initial reports make it sound like a good shoot: they got a call about a suspicious guy wandering around an apartment complex with a backpack looking into cars, responded, didn’t find him initially, came back 2o minutes later after a second report and found him…

Officers radioed for air support and K9 units to help find the man as they continued to chase him on foot. An officer eventually ran the man down and used his stun gun to try to make an arrest, officials said.

The guy went down, the officers stated yelling at him to show his hands, he initially wasn’t compliant, and then…

“What we can see on video is that the suspect very quickly rolls over, produces a handgun and begins firing shots at our officers,” Manley said. “Our officers immediately retreat and return fire. There are multiple shots that are fired, again by both the suspect who initiated the gunfire and our officer who returned fire.”

Part of the referenced video (taken by a resident of the complex, not the police) is on the KVUE website. It isn’t the best quality, and I swear I saw a better version elsewhere, but it seems to show exactly what the APD is saying happened: they told the guy to roll over, he came up shooting…

(Edited to add 9/16: the video I was thinking of is on Facebook and linked from this Reddit thread. I recommend ignoring the comments.)

Noted: this is the second fatal police shooting in Austin in 10 days. A week ago Monday, the APD shot a man whp was wandering around an apartment complex holding a “high-powered rifle”: the police took cover, repeatedly asked the man to drop the weapon, actually shot him several times with “beanbag” rounds, and finally (the exact chain of events is currently unclear) shot the man. It sounds like classic “suicide by cop”: the man was being described as emotionally distraught after a recent break-up with his girlfriend.

Obit watch: September 5, 2016.

Monday, September 5th, 2016

Officer Amir Abdul-Khaliq of the Austin Police Department passed away yesterday.

He was critically injured in an accident on Thursday. According to reports, he was escorting a funeral procession, and was at the Burnet/Ohlen intersection when a woman pulled in front of him (trying to make it into a gap in the procession) resulting in the officer striking her vehicle.

Cmdr. Art Fortune with the Police Department’s Highway Enforcement Command said the department has handled at least a dozen motorcycle crashes involving officers in the past two years, but none had been as serious as Thursday’s incident.

Officer Abdul-Khaliq had been on the force for 17 years and has five children.

Be careful out there, people.

Semi-related: “A Fighter Pilot’s Guide to Surviving on the Roads..”

The police beat.

Wednesday, August 31st, 2016

A while back, I mentioned the case of an APD officer who allegedly pepper-sprayed a suspect who was handcuffed in the back of a police van.

The officer and the chief have made a deal: 45 days of unpaid suspension, along with some additional conditions (“requiring him to be evaluated by a police psychologist and to have a one-year probationary period”).

Despite the reprimand, Acevedo said that Caldwell was right to try to gain compliance from Wilson, noting that Wilson wasn’t being cooperative. Acevedo said Caldwell had other options — such as asking other officers for help to pin him down and restrain his legs — but described him as an officer with no previous disciplinary issues who “but for this incident has done a pretty good job.”

Part of the deal is that Officer Caldwell will not appeal the decision, since he just got an unpaid suspension instead of a firing.

More from the police beat.

Thursday, August 18th, 2016

Lawrence put up a post yesterday on Austin’s murder rate, which is “up nearly 80 percent from the same time last year”.

So what is the cause of Austin’s rising murder rate? Possibly just random statistical variation. Possibly the result of understaffing the police department.

I’m not totally convinced on the “understaffing the police department” argument. It kind of seems to me that the police basically come along and clean up after the murder’s already been done. Even with more cops on the street, what are the odds that one of those cops is going to run across the guy with the knife raised in time to stop him from stabbing a woman to death?

The flip side of this is the “broken windows” theory of policing: by concentrating on reducing disorder in neighborhoods, serious crime can be reduced. When disorder increases:

…many residents will think that crime, especially violent crime, is on the rise, and they will modify their behavior accordingly. They will use the streets less often, and when on the streets will stay apart from their fellows, moving with averted eyes, silent lips, and hurried steps. “Don’t get involved.” For some residents, this growing atomization will matter little, because the neighborhood is not their “home” but “the place where they live.” Their interests are elsewhere; they are cosmopolitans. But it will matter greatly to other people, whose lives derive meaning and satisfaction from local attachments rather than worldly involvement; for them, the neighborhood will cease to exist except for a few reliable friends whom they arrange to meet.

(Hattip to the Center for Evidence-Based Crime Policy for the link.)

This probably isn’t news to most of you, but I bring it up here because of a second item, from yesterday’s Statesman:

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Memo from the police beat.

Friday, August 12th, 2016

There are a couple of ongoing stories in the news, two of them locally. Both of those two had significant developments today (in other words, “Let’s break this news on Friday afternoon and see if it gets lost over the weekend.”)

First story: You may recall the controversy back in April where our city manager, Marc Ott, accused the police chief of insubordination and fined him five days of pay?

Looks like we know who won that battle.

Austin City Manager Marc Ott, the most powerful man at City Hall, is leaving his post for a prestigious job running a Washington, D.C., association.

Last month, the council gave him a $22,000 raise, bumping his pay and benefits to $361,000 annually. His predecessor at the management association made $478,000 in 2013, the group’s tax returns show.

At least, we know who won for the moment. It will be interesting to see how the replacement process plays out, and how much deference (if any) the incoming city manager will be expected to show to the APD and the chief.

Also worth pointing out is what may have been Ott’s final “F— you” to the APD. There was a recent report (the “Matrix Report”) that called for increasing the number of police officers.

Additionally, the report also calls for the department to create positions for 66 officers and eight corporals beyond what has already been authorized, and to add an average 17 new officer positions over the next four years. Finally, the report calls for adding four officers to the Motorcycle Unit.

So that’s 78 sworn officers over and above the current authorized staffing level, which APD is still about 100 officers short of. What did the City Manager and his team ask for in the current budget?

Currently, the city has taken a phased approach to increasing staffing at APD in FY 2017. Included in the City Manager’s proposed FY 2017 budget are 12 new sworn positions and 21 new civilian positions to transition existing sworn employees back to patrol activities.

Twelve. To quote our great and good friend RoadRich: “‘But first let me deny you most of the required staff to protect the city… and then I shall leave you to your fates. Suckahs.'”

(Another problem which I would like to get into, but the margins of this post are too small to contain: there’s also talk of converting the district representative positions, which are currently sworn officers, into civilian positions.)

Next:

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Art (Acevedo), damn it! watch. (#AA of a series)

Tuesday, July 19th, 2016
Blogger, with occasional chief.

Blogger, with occasional chief.

This reminds me that I owe you guys a longer post on the Citizen’s Police Academy: thoughts on the academy itself, and the aftermath. I’ve had that stewing for a while now, but various things have gotten in the way.

Adult supervision needed. Inquire within.

Sunday, June 19th, 2016

This one got past me earlier in the week: I was sort of avoiding media because Orlando and stupids, and the Oakland/SF papers aren’t part of my usual daily media diet anyway. And as it turns out, Peter over at Bayou Renaissance Man beat me to this as well…

So, followup, for the historical record and folks who don’t read BRM: remember the Oakland PD fired their chief, Sean Whent? So of course they appointed an interim chief.

The interim chief lasted five days.

“I have just received information that has caused me to lose confidence in Ben Fairow’s ability to lead the Oakland Police Department at this particular moment in time,” the mayor said in a statement on Wednesday, announcing Mr. Fairow’s departure. She did not elaborate on specific reasons for her decision.

I’m not trying to seem like Judgy McJudgerson here, but this might potentially be relevant to the mayor’s “loss of confidence”: Fairow apparently had “an affair with a consenting adult while married more than a decade ago”, according to the BART chief (who, by the way, has also “welcomed back” Fairow to the BART PD).

The interim chief was previously a deputy chief for BART. So they brought in a new interim chief, who was currently an Oakland PD assistant chief.

He lasted two days.

Mr. Figueroa said in a statement on Friday that he was taking leave and would return to the department as a captain.

More from SFGate:

In a move in which the mayor indicated she had lost faith in police leaders to run the department, she disclosed that she would not appoint another interim or acting chief to the top post. Instead, the department will have no chief, and for the time being command staff will report to City Administrator Sabrina Landreth as Oakland conducts a national search for a new chief.

“a national search for a new chief”. Hmmmm. Hmmmmm. Hmmmm. Gee, is there anyone we can think of that’s from California originally, has experience running a police department that’s even larger than Oakland’s, in a city much larger than Oakland, has been going through some friction with local politicians, and might be interested in a change?

Nope. Can’t think of anyone.

(Sarcasm aside, would Art, dammit, Art even be willing to take over this dumpster fire of a department?)

Followups.

Friday, June 17th, 2016

Lawrence’s backlink for my DNA lab post reminded me that I intended to link to this Grits For Breakfast post on the same subject.

More on MP Jo Cox: NYT. The Guardian (current live blog, historical live blog). Express.

According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, Mr. Mair sent about $620 to the National Alliance for items from its publishing imprint, National Vanguard Books, including works that instructed readers on the chemistry of powder and explosives. Also purchased was a copy of “Ich Kampfe,” a book published by the Nazi Party in the early 1940s.
Heidi Beirich, the director of the center’s Intelligence Project, which tracks and produces reports on extremist groups, said in an interview that it had found the invoices in a database of records it maintains.
When Mr. Mair’s name surfaced on Thursday, Ms. Beirich said, the Intelligence Project matched it with invoices in its possession. She said those records were authentic because they had been leaked by members of the National Alliance. Further, she said, she was confident the records were linked to Mr. Mair because the address on the invoices matched his home address.

You know, I dislike Nazis as much as the next guy or gal, but: does this bother anyone else? The SLPC apparently has a database of people’s book orders that was “leaked” to them? And they, in turn, are providing those records to the press?

Setting aside our individual lack of love for the Nazis, isn’t it possible that there are people on that list – students of modern day extremism, university libraries with collections of extremist literature for reference purposes, etc. – that would object to having their purchases revealed to unrelated third parties?

And where does this stop? Anyone remember the Tattered Cover case?

Random notes: June 11, 2016.

Saturday, June 11th, 2016

This is shaping up to be a busy weekend, but I have a little bit of time this morning and wanted to make note of one major and one minor story.

Major story: the Austin Police Department has temporarily suspended DNA testing at their lab.

This is the same lab that RoadRich and I toured as part of our CPA class; they may have been blowing smoke, but one of the things that stood out to us was how seriously the APD lab took their certifications, and how much effort they put into getting things right.

So what’s going on? It looks like three things:

1) Unspecified concerns raised by the Texas Forensic Science Commission.

Police officials, who were working Friday to determine how best to proceed, said the commission raised concerns about calculations and formulas the lab was using in conducting DNA analysis, but said they didn’t know specifics.

Officials had already scaled back lab operations in recent weeks — its staff were only screening evidence for DNA but were no longer doing analysis — and asked state forensic experts to evaluate the lab’s operation amid concerns about its operations.
Gay said Friday that he hasn’t received a formal notification from the state about the outcome of the experts’ inquiry, but that, based on phone conversations, “there are some challenges in front of us”.

2) There’s also a leadership gap. Apparently, the civilian lab supervisor (who goes unnamed in the Statesman) recently passed away, and had been out on leave for a while before that.

3) I’m a little confused by this part, and would love to find an “explain like I’m 5” piece on it: apparently, the Feds have issued new standards for doing DNA probability calculations, and a lot of labs – not just Austin – are struggling to implement them. This is something that was specifically mentioned as an issue on our tour:

FBI officials last year notified crime labs across the country that they were using outdated methods to examine samples containing genetic material from multiple people — methods that often led expert witnesses to greatly overstate the reliability of that evidence in court.
The use of outdated protocols to interpret test results means an expert witness might have told jurors that the chances are 1 in more than a billion that the genetic material in question belonged to someone other than the defendant, when those odds are more like 1 in 100.

So the lab has to go through and do a bunch of recalculation on a bunch of existing cases (around 1,300). And that apparently requires things like software updates (which I gather aren’t as simple as “download a .ZIPed EXE file and run it” when you’re dealing with forensic gear) and additional new training for the people doing the work.

All of this is going to take time: they’re speculating four to six months. In the meantime, DNA samples are going to be sent either to private labs or the Texas DPS lab for analysis.

…the lab’s backlog of cases awaiting DNA analysis has risen to about 1,300, the most in the past five years.

Minor story:

First reported by the Tampa Bay Times, Special Operations Command, or SOCOM, posted a “sources sought” solicitation for non-standard weapons on a federal contracting site early last month. In April, the command posted a similar notice for non-standard weapon ammunition. The term “non standard” is used for weapons not frequently employed by the United States or its NATO allies.

What kind of “non-standard” weapons and ammo? AK-47s. Yes, WP, yes, journalist’s guide to firearm identification, but it seems like this is for real AK-47s:

SOCOM’s solicitation includes weapons such as the iconic “AK-47″ rifle, a catchall designator for Kalashnikov-variant rifles designed to fire a certain type of ammunition and often identified by their distinctive curved magazines. Other weapons include the SVD, a unique looking sniper rifle that has likely killed thousands of U.S. troops since it was first introduced in the years leading up to the Vietnam War. Additionally, Russian medium and heavy machine guns as well as 14.5mm aircraft guns are included in the notice.

This makes sense, in a way. As the article explains, we’re arming foreign troops, but giving them distinctively US-made weapons (like the M4) puts a target on their back: “Although likely more accurate than their Soviet-style counterparts, U.S. weapons can make the fighters carrying them targets for other factions.” Plus: “U.S. weapons can also be difficult to maintain,” (Really?!) “prompting Special Operations Command and the CIA to procure and supply weapons that their allies are used to fighting with, such as Kalashnikovs.”

The thing that makes me wonder about this story: I’m sure we’ve all heard (I’ve even linked to) stories about secret CIA/SOCOM warehouses filled to the rafters with captured AK-47s intended to arm foreign troops while maintaining plausible deniability. So why does SOCOM need contracts to produce new ones? Are the warehouses running low? Are the ones in the warehouses poorly made or shot to heck, and SOCOM thinks they’re better off getting new ones that are assembled to tighter tolerances? (Sort of a Smith and Wesson vs. Taurus comparison, but for AK’s? Okay, that was a cheap shot.)

Art (Acevedo), damn it! watch. (#Z of a series)

Thursday, June 9th, 2016

I was hoping to have something else to put here. Maybe that will be #AA, or #AB.

But I digress. Remember a few weeks ago, when I commented, “…in my experience so far with the Citizen’s Police Academy, the rank-and-file seem to love the guy.”

Here’s the flip side of that:

A total of 883 police officers — representing more than half of the department’s officers — participated in the survey released Thursday. Four hundred and eighty respondents — or 54.5 percent — described morale at the department as “poor.”

I quibble slightly with the Statesman‘s headline, “Survey: More than half of Austin police officers say morale is poor”. If memory serves, the authorized strength of the APD is just over 1,800 officers, and they told our CPA class they were about 100 officers short. They did give an exact figure: it was in the 1,700 range, but I don’t remember exactly what, and it has certainly fluctuated some since then. Point being: 883 officers is just over half of the department, and that’s just the number that responded to the survey. The actual number that described morale as “poor” – 480 – is more like 28% of the department, not half.

Continuing:

…90 percent of officers surveyed said that staffing shortages are affecting the department’s “ability to do its job effectively.” To make up for a shortage of patrol officers, the Austin police command instituted a rotation that is pulling detectives and nonpatrol officers away from their typical duties to fill vacant patrol shifts.

With all due respect to the fine men and women of the APD, and with the understanding that police work is different from technical support, this doesn’t sound too much different from my job. I’d prefer to have time to work on my existing cases instead of taking new phone calls. But if we’re shorthanded and there’s not enough people in the phone queue, guess what? My preferences don’t matter. And the city has some major issues right now, including a serial sexual assaulter and rock throwers on the interstate. I don’t blame the chief for wanting butts in the field.

Lower-ranking officers feel shut out of the decision-making process, Austin police union President Ken Casaday said, adding that there have been some recent improvements since the survey was conducted May 11-13.

See. Above. And yes, there probably are times when higher-ranking officers make stupid hasty decisions: I can’t think of ones from the APD, but The Onion Field is a classic example.

The survey also indicated that more than half of the officers surveyed believe Police Chief Art Acevedo is often politically driven in high-profile disciplinary cases, isn’t honest and relies on fear and retaliation in managing the department.

Note that it was the APD police union that ran the survey.

Obit watch and playing catch up: May 21, 2016.

Saturday, May 21st, 2016

Alan Young.

Yesterday was kind of a busy day. There were multiple things that I intended to make note of, but I got stuck into something I can’t discuss right now, and…well….anyway:

Morley Safer, for the historical record.

San Francisco police chief “resigns” “at the request of Mayor Ed Lee”. I think we can call this one a “firing”.

The precipitating incident here seems to have been the SFPD shooting of a woman in a possibly stolen vehicle: she fled from the officers and crashed into the back of a truck.

The car crashed into a utility truck a short distance away. Although no weapon was found on the woman and the car was wedged under the truck, a police sergeant fired a single shot, killing her, police said.

It sounds at first like there was a bit of a rush to judgement on this: the shooting took place Thursday morning, and Suhr was canned Thursday afternoon. But as the linked SFGate article notes, this wasn’t the first problem under Suhr’s administration: there had been two previous controversial shootings, plus a scandal over “racist and homophobic text messages”.

Great and good friend of the blog and occasional guest poster RoadRich sent a series of thoughtful comments yesterday on the Suhr firing: I’m hoping he’ll let me post those as a guest post, but I didn’t get a chance to ask him yesterday because of [redacted] and he’s busy today.

In other California news, remember Maywood? How could you forget the nearly broke municipality of Maywood, “the second-smallest city in Los Angeles County”?

But that didn’t stop municipal leaders from granting themselves, the city treasurer and the city clerk $250 monthly mileage stipends.
If Maywood used the Internal Revenue Service’s suggested reimbursement rate for business travel of 54 cents a mile, city officials would need to drive 463 miles a month to reach the $250 mark.

More:

Councilman Ricardo Villarreal said he didn’t think twice about voting in favor of the monthly stipends because he thought the roughly $550 a month they get for serving as council members didn’t cover other costs like meals with other officials and mileage.

I wonder if the councilman and other officials are eating at Tacos Los Desvelados.

Turning our attention to Austin:

Albert “Matt” Arevalo was fired in September after being charged with DWI last May. Arevalo was stopped after driving 91 mph in a 55 mph zone, and his blood alcohol content was more than twice the legal limit, police said.

Mr. Arevalo was an officer with the Austin Police Department. Given that knowledge, would you care to guess what happened next? Yes: he got his job back!

The arbitrator mandated that Arevalo should only serve a 180-day suspension and receive back pay for any days over that period, said Austin police union president Ken Casaday in a letter members of the Austin Police Association.

I know sometimes you wanna let go…

Friday, May 20th, 2016

Me and my people:

Somewhat related: APD homicide detective Kerry Scanlon is retiring today.

Detective Kerry Scanlon has spent 26 years at APD, 14 of those years as a homicide detective. He’s investigated more than 500 deaths, 50 of them determined to be homicides.

I think this is a pretty good story (and I’m not just saying that because Nadia Galindo was one of our CPA classmates).

“A homicide detective needs to be somebody that has curiosity,” he said. “[Someone] that gets the challenge and accepts the challenge.”

Detective Scanlon came down and spoke to our CPA class. He came across to me as a pretty good guy. (I’m a little biased: he gave me a spiffy APD Homicide coffee mug because I was able to articulate the difference between homicide and murder.) I hope he enjoys a long and happy retirement.