Austin Police Association funded petition imitating Police Oversight Act

Madeline Duncan, Senior News Reporter

Campaign finance reports filed by Voters for Police Oversight and Accountability revealed it is mainly funded by the Austin Police Association, the union representing Austin police officers.

VOPA, the group that sponsored the petition imitating Equity Action’s Austin Police Oversight Act, received $287,030 from the Austin Police Association since November, according to the committee campaign finance report filed on Jan. 17. The Austin city clerk has not yet confirmed whether or not the ordinance will appear on the May ballot alongside Equity Actions’s ordinance.

Kathy Mitchell, Equity Action’s senior policy advisor, said this report confirms that the police association misrepresented their role in the petition.

“When we confronted the police union members directly at a couple of meetings over the police contract negotiation, they said they didn’t know anything about it,” Mitchell said. “Now we know that from the beginning, from before the collection of signatures, they were the source of all of this.”

The Austin Police Association did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

Equity Action’s Austin Police Oversight ballot measure would strengthen Austin’s Office of Police Oversight’s efforts to gather evidence in investigations and require the Austin Police Department to open records related to conduct that are not accessible to the public.

“It’s important for voters to understand that while this alternative measure by the police union has the same name and nearly the same caption, it has very different content,” Mitchell said.

The ordinance written by VOPA is not only weaker than the one written by Equity Action, but it’s also weaker than the current oversight system Austin has in place, Mitchell said. For example, the anonymous complaint system that was passed in 2018 has been removed in VOPA’s version.

“The anonymous complaint system has been deleted from the ordinance that they propose,” Mitchell said. “So not only is it not improving our hamstrung system, it is making it even less than it has been since 2018.”

Because Austin does not have rules about ordinances regarding the same topic, it is unclear what would happen if both VOPA and Equity Action’s petitions are passed. Mitchell said Equity Action is not able to speak on the legal actions they are pursuing to prevent VOPA’s ordinance from appearing on the ballot yet.

“By hoping that voters will vote for both, it will absolutely muddy the water (regarding) what our oversight system can and cannot do after the election,” Mitchell said.

Architectural engineering freshman Madison Filberth said she signed the petition after a canvasser stopped her on Speedway.

“(The petitioner) was like, ‘Hi … we’re here to raise awareness for police brutality,’” Filberth said. “That’s why I signed it. I’m gonna be honest, it didn’t take much convincing.”

Undeclared sophomore Alex Alcaraz said he signed the petition around finals season but was able to rescind his signature. Because the petition has already been turned in to the city clerk, anyone who signed the petition can now no longer remove their names.

“(The petitioners) said they were either defunding the police or taking power from them in some sense, so we went ahead and signed it,” Alcaraz said. “My roommate had actually found out it wasn’t real and that it’s for something completely different.”