Austin officers file complaints over reassignments

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Associated Press

Posted on January 14, 2014 at 6:32 PM

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — More than a dozen Austin police officers have filed complaints with the state alleging racial and age discrimination in the wake of staff reassignments, according to a published report.

The complaints submitted in recent weeks with the Texas Workforce Commission are a required step before a lawsuit can be filed, the Austin American-Statesman reported (http://bit.ly/1j5KH3O) in collaboration with KVUE-TV.

The police department last summer reassigned 19 supervisors and officers who were part of a prominent organized crime division that tackles human-trafficking, narcotics and other high-profile cases. They were transferred from coveted positions to jobs that include night patrol shifts. The moves sparked turmoil among the rank-and-file about the impact on large investigations and the motives for the transfers, the newspaper reported.

Thirteen of the officers filed complaints with the commission. Nearly all of them are black or Hispanic officers in their 50s.

"We think this is an attempt to weed out some older officers, some Hispanic officers and some black officers, for reasons that, quite frankly, look discriminating," said Mark Crampton, an Austin attorney representing the officers. He said under the law, the officers must prove only that the moves had a discriminatory effect — not that the city intended to discriminate.

Crampton said officers will determine whether to move forward with a lawsuit after the city responds.

Police officials have said the division needed a staffing overhaul, with Assistant Police Chief Troy Gay explaining that some supervisors had been in their jobs for years. He told the newspaper in the fall that police officials were reviewing the culture, organization and leadership of the division and wanted to make changes. He declined to elaborate at the time.

Todd Wuestewald, an assistant professor of criminal justice at the University of Oklahoma and senior associate for the Center of Public Safety Management for the International City/County Management Association, said it's not unusual for police chiefs nationally to swiftly reassign officers and supervisors in such specialty units.

"If you want to change the culture, especially in a unit like that, it can be a pretty good idea to do a clean sweep," he said. "The most important thing is that if there is a need for change, you do it before there is a problem that is exposed, because if you are in reactive mode, it is late, and there is no telling what kind of damage has been done."

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Information from: Austin American-Statesman, http://www.statesman.com

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