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Reminder: It’s Against The Law To Fire Austin’s Police Chief

Posted in Austin, Creative Commons, and Journalism

Did you know it’s literally against the law to fire Austin’s police chief?

I found myself tweeting this fact over and over again, each time some new fresh horror surfaced from Austin’s police force. So I thought I should write something too.

It would be an extraordinary fact at any time, but it seems worth repeating at this moment when so many people are demanding accountability from our nation’s police. One of the key forms of accountability under capitalism, firing a bad worker, is actually off limits.

Let’s look briefly at the facts of the matter, then examine why people might want to fire Austin’s chief of police, Brian Manley.

Hiring from within makes it impossible to fire Austin police chief

Grits for Breakfast is the politics blog of Scott Henson. You should be reading it if you have any interest in local political shenanigans. In a post on June 5, Henson lays out the law which makes it impossible to fire Chief Manley.

According to Sec. 143.013(c) of the Texas Local Government Code, you can’t fire Manley, only demote him to a position equal to the one held before being promoted. This is specifically because he was promoted from within the force, previously holding the role of chief of staff.

That would mean that Manley can only be made chief of staff again. No police chief would want a disgraced former chief operating under him in that role. It creates a seemingly insurmountable dilemma unless Manley will step down.

Henson proposes a clever workaround — the city manager could invent a new position such as “Chief Toilet Inspector.” Ok that’s my suggestion. Henson’s is “Asshole Who Won’t Resign.” In other words, invent a humiliating new job title and force Manley into it.

The existence of this law is like a poison pill, because it often seems like a great idea to hire from within. But doing so means we’re stuck with him no matter how bad his performance.

Police unions insure unaccountablity of police

I asked Henson by email about the origins of the law, and he noted:

“I believe the law was passed during an era (late 80s, early 90s) when the police unions controlled the conservative Democrats and conservative Dems controlled both chambers of the Lege. Same era in which anti-transparency language and 180-day rule were added.”

The 180 day rule makes police in Texas even less able to be punished for infractions. If they violate their code, they can only be indefinitely suspended (fired) during a 180 day window of investigation. That window does not get extended if the cop continues to violate his code during the investigation under certain conditions.

Part of the reason people are in the streets, and so angry, is that police seem to be able to get away with anything, especially murdering and abusing Black people and POC. In any other context, if a workforce had a pattern of abuse then removing the person in charge is an obvious first step towards changing a toxic corporate culture.

I had assumed this was a more recent development. The Republican-led legislature has, in recent sessions, frequently sought to undermine local control. For example, the Texas legislature banned plastic bag bans and bans on fracking after local governments instituted them.

I appreciate Henson giving me two important reminders here. First, that police unions have always been corrupt. And, second, that both Democrats and Republicans helped build our current out of control police state.

Why people want to fire Austin Police Chief Brian Manley

Because he’s a bastard.

Ok, let’s lay out a few recent reasons:

At the end of the day, however, let’s not get distracted. Firing Austin’s chief of police will only make a difference if it comes as part of systematic changes involving defunding, abolishing, and replacing the police with something new. Like community-led services that are more humane.

Otherwise we’ll just get another bastard in a long line of bastards.

Released under a Creative Commons license

Creative Commons LicenseReminder: It’s Against The Law To Fire Austin’s Police Chief by Kit O’Connell is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.
Based on a work at https://kitoconnell.com/2020/07/29/fire-austin-police-chief/.

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