Office of the Police Monitor bridges gap between civilians and police

Bonny Chu

The Office of the Police Monitor, a separate Austin City Council entity overseeing the police department, is undergoing changes to ensure that Austinites are comfortable with voicing their concerns about the Austin Police Department.

“There are people that are absolutely terrified of coming forward,” police monitor Farah Muscadin said. “There’s a significant fear of retribution.”

Currently, there are 250 complaints that are under investigation, Muscadin said. Of the 250, 80 percent of the complaints were made internally, such as when officers complain about APD, and 20 percent were made by the public. In order to encourage the public to speak out more, Muscadin said all complaints should go to the OPM, because they may feel more comfortable voicing their complaints to a civilian than to an officer. 

If Austinites were to experience any policy violations, such as brutality, Muscadin said they should be able to report them to internal affairs investigation and request the reports back.

To further improve its relationship with the public, the OPM plans to improve access to information, such as publishing summaries of police complaint investigations online.

“We’re looking for revamping our transparency,” Muscadin said. “The public is wanting information. We have to give the public information that is in a digestible format that makes sense for the public to understand what we do.”

Troy Gay, APD chief of staff, said having the oversight of the OPM will improve the department’s relationship with the community. 

“We support the potential changes and the direction that the Office of the Police Monitor is moving,” Gay said. “The department is one that is all about relationships. Part of that is to build trust and transparency with the community. I think the Police Monitor will help to bridge that gap.” 

Muscadin presented these plans early this month to the Commission on Immigrant Affairs, because immigrants rarely report policy violations. Krystal Gomez, vice-chair of the commission, said immigrants can be reluctant to file complaints because policemen sometimes work in coordination with immigration enforcement.

“We have to ensure that immigrants would be able to safely come forward to make those complaints to the police,” Gomez said. “Immigrants may have complaints with the police too.”

Muscadin said she is ready to better assist all Austinites with their complaints. 

“I can’t wait for us to implement our plans,” Muscadin said.