AUSTIN (KXAN) - Updated with APD Police Academy comment: After a series of crashes caused by Austin police officers behind the wheel, a top spokesman for the Austin Police Association says public safety is at risk the longer the city's officers go without mandatory driver retraining.
Ken Casaday made the comments to KXAN after the latest collision that netted one experienced officer three days suspension. Now that officer is back on the road.
"The officer serves his suspension and, in the Association's opinion, has learned nothing," said Casaday, Vice President of the Austin Police Association.
A disciplinary memo said Officer Steven Krippner broke a department policy about driving with care.
Employees will operate Department vehicles in a careful and prudent manner within the guidelines of the law and Department policy. Unsafe or negligent driving is prohibited. - APD Policy Section 804.2 (a)
The memo dated July 8, 2013, said Krippner ran a red light on 15th Street on June 7 and was hit by a driver traveling southbound on Colorado Street.
At the scene, he could be heard saying on his vehicle's dash cam recording, he had been distracted thinking someone was about to step off the curb. The severity of the other driver's injuries were not apparent.
Casaday said Austin's police officers drive thousands of miles each year and some make mistakes. But he said learning from those mistakes in a controlled environment, is a retraining opportunity that's lacking at APD's busy academy right now; a facility that is focused on turning out new recruits to keep up with Austin's growing population.
"Probably about 10 years ago, we had continuing training out there," he said. "If you had an accident you could go be retrained."
Now, an officer who sits through a suspension for an at-fault crash (where serious damage, injury or death is not an issue), likely goes straight back to work.
But a training sergeant at the Austin Police Academy told KXAN if a police officer requests a retraining session they will get it. Sgt. Zac Pruitt said there are 30 police driving instructors at the academy.
And while scheduling is tight due to ongoing cadet training courses, he said safe driving is a priority at APD. In fact, Pruitt said all field training officers, who ride with new officers for a period of time are currently getting their own driving refreshers to pass along police driving tips and safety updates.
And while other priority courses, such as monthly firearms retraining scenarios for regular officers are keeping Academy staff busy, Asst Chief Brian Manley said if an Austin police officer exhibits a pattern of behavior of multiple wrecks for the same reason, such as speeding, the department will put together a prescriptive driving course to help the officer.
In 2010, Austin Police officers were involved in more than 250 crashes. The total was closer to 300 in both 2011 and 2012, and varied in severity.
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