The City of Austin is tasked with finding a new Director of its Office of Police Oversight after receiving notice that Farah Muscadin has resigned. Muscadin explained to soulciti that the decision to resign, while difficult, was clearly the best decision for her and her family.
“I truly loved my job, and I think everyone who knows me would say that was obvious. Austin will always have a special place in my heart. I came here from Chicago, knowing nobody, and Austin embraced, supported, and respected me.” Starting as Interim Director of the office in 2018, she was hired into the role later that year and worked tirelessly for the next four and a half years to strengthen the accountability and transparency of the Austin Police Department.
I was a bit surprised how much resistance there was to requiring City employees to be accountable for their performance
“I was a bit surprised how much resistance there was to requiring City employees to be accountable for their performance, particularly since the role of the police officer includes the power to affect a person’s life and liberty,” Muscadin said. During her tenure, however, the Office of Police Oversight gained the trust and support of what she referred to as “the trifecta”: The City Council, The City Manager and, most importantly, the community at large.
The Austin Justice Coalition was clearly a vocal supporter of the work her office did, Muscadin noted, as was the ACLU, Austin InterFaith, the African- American, Latino, and LGBTQ Quality of Life Commissions, and a diverse group of neighborhood associations who all worked to support the work of the Office.
“My successor will need to maintain the support of “the trifecta” to be successful. Although the only true opponents to police oversight are the Police Union and the Blue Lives Matter organization, they are powerful, deeply vested in their mission, and very strategic,” Muscadin warned. “[My successor] will have to have thick skin and be prepared for the tried-and-true tactics of the Union, which includes intense background scrutiny, inaccurate portrayals of facts, and false accusations.”
While it can be disheartening to face the reality that in essence, the mission of the Police Union is to protect a fraternity of its members, regardless of wrongdoing, Muscadin takes pride in a number of accomplishments that equip the City and citizens to hold law enforcement officers accountable and remind them that they work for the people, not the other way around. Muscadin recounted several occasions when she had to remind APD Chief Brian Manley that, as the ones being overseen, police don’t get to dictate how oversight is provided.
“First and foremost, I’m proud to have established an office that, from the ground up, is fully dedicated to the community and improving its interactions with police,” Muscadin declared when asked about the accomplishments of which she’s most proud.
“We literally and figuratively opened the door to the Office of Police Oversight. From filing a complaint, thanking an officer, and reading communications to and from our office, it can all be accessed on our website. While we didn’t achieve full transparency, I made everything public that I could. Anyone interested can learn so much about what APD is doing just by going there.”
In addition, a new course developed and taught by UT Law Faculty on the history of policing in the United States will be a mandatory addition to the Police Academy. Muscadin believes it is important for officers to understand that much of police culture in America is rooted in its origin as a function of slave control in the South. In order to root out those ideas and truly modernize policing to be effective in a post-Civil Rights Act America, this education is necessary. “I realized that I was not just going up against the Austin Police Department, but a national idea of law enforcement,” she added.
In addition to actions taken to increase accountability, the Office has considered promoting officer’s well-being and strengthening the Department’s relationships with the communities they patrol essential to a healthier and safer city.
Muscadin pointed out that police officers are a vulnerable population themselves, pointing to the divorce, suicide, and domestic violence statistics that bear this out. She noted that the Black community is the most likely to bear the brunt of a police officer having a bad day or working while stressed, so it is mutually beneficial to ensure that scheduling, work-life balance, and stress management considerations are prioritized.
While on maternity leave for her son, both of Muscadin’s parents’ health declined significantly. She requested an extension while she and her brother worked to arrange appropriate care for their parents, but it did not work out and their condition in fact declined further. The notion of leaving them in another state while she parented her infant child and managed the demands of the Police Monitor Director role became less and less possible.
Muscadin explained that leaving her role is not without regrets. One is not being there to participate in the upcoming negotiation of Austin’s new contract with the Police Union. “I really wanted to be there to push for Austin to join the vast majority of American municipalities, where the oversight function is not in the contract with the very people the oversight is designed for, but in a city charter or ordinance.”
In my culture, it is the duty of children to care for their parents when they age
The difficult decision to “step up” and focus on her family as both her new baby and aging parents required more attention than she could provide if she continued working, was a simple one. “I’m from Haiti. In my culture, it is the duty of children to care for their parents when they age. I had to step up. Period.”
Sylvia Hardman will serve as the Acting Director while the city searches for Muscadin’s successor.