First look at Austin Police training videos under scrutiny by community panel

Investigations

AUSTIN (KXAN) — A community panel scrutinizing the Austin Police Department’s training videos has been given more time to review the content and recommend changes.

Originally, they were supposed to present their findings to city council ahead of budget deliberations and decisions regarding police funding.

In June, several panelists came before the city’s Public Safety Committee asking for more time to review the dozens of training videos they had left to watch. At the time, they called the content “outdated” and “concerning.”

“It was very clear that the academy and the training materials are problematic, and that they needed some serious revision and review before we wanted more cadets to go through the system,” council member and chair of the Public Safety Committee Jimmy Flannigan told KXAN. “The council is already prepared to say that it’s not going to be ready in time for new training materials for a November class.”

He said they want the panel to have as much time as they need to get their questions answered about the training materials.

“But there isn’t a hard deadline because it is far more important to get it right,” he said.

KXAN investigators obtained copies of the panel’s May and June meetings through an open records request under the Texas Public Information Act, to see what kind of videos past cadets have watched and to hear what changes the panelists have suggested so far.

The videos featured so far varied in length and type. Several videos were dramatized reenactments of arrests, traffic stops and noteworthy court cases.

Some panelists expressed concern about the age of these videos. Others worried there was an assumption in each video that the suspect was guilty. They said it appeared the host of the material seemed to be “coaching officers” on how to get a judge or jury to rule in their favor, when explaining legal concepts like ‘reasonable fear’ and ‘probable cause.’

“It seems like a coaching video on how to get away with prosecution,” one panelist said.

Another panelist pointed out the intense music in the videos.

“It was all about, like, crime TV. I know people are bored, and you want something entertaining,” they said. “This whole culture of crime shows has been created over the last generation that’s all set up to view it a certain way. So, I was really disturbed by the music.”

Several other videos depicted real scenarios involving police officers from other departments — even officer-involved shootings. One of the main concerns expressed by several panelists, was what they called a “lack of context” about what was discussed before and after these videos were shown at the academy.

“This is definitely one 20 minute slice out of a lot of information,” a representative from the police academy on the panel said.

One panelist told KXAN that they’ve since received more context and resources from the Office of Police Oversight in their more recent virtual meetings.

According to a spokesperson for APD, the video review process will conclude on Nov. 9. The panel is scheduled to meet 22 times in total.

On Monday, President of the Austin Police Association Ken Casaday said he worried city council members were using this review as an excuse to delay the new cadet class and shrink the police department.

“This is not anything to do with the academy being bad. These are lies being told to further their cause. There is absolutely no proof of them teaching racist practices at the academy,” he said.

KXAN investigators are working to add more footage of the training videos to this article soon.

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