AUSTIN (KXAN) — Some community panelists tasked with reviewing the training videos used by the Austin Police Department are calling the materials “outdated” and “concerning.”
Two of them spoke to city council members at Thursday’s Public Safety Commission meeting, describing the videos that depict interactions between the police and the community.
“These aren’t light, fun, happy videos. Some of them are really traumatic,” panelist Nakia Winfield explained. “So, it is going to take us a longer time to be able to process them and give critique and feedback.”
The panel was convened as a part of a comprehensive audit of APD’s training materials administered to cadet classes, originally set to be completed by June 1, 2020. According to a city memo released in May, city staff now estimate the audit and any recommendations to be completed by mid-July.
However, the panelists reviewing the video-portion of the audit said they’ve only watched eight of the more than 100 videos. Winfield said it was her understanding they were to have completed around 30 videos at this point in time.
“Some of them are three minutes, and some of them are 25 minutes,” she said. “The conversation that we have varies between those videos.”
According to the memo, the panel is made up of six community members including Winfield, a representative from the Office of Police Oversight, a representative from the Equity Office, an academic professional with expertise in racial justice and equity, a Police Lieutenant who oversees Cadet training, and an APD training instructor.
They are tasked with reviewing the “accuracy, relevance, effectiveness, and cultural sensitivities” of some selected course videos, and then make decisions including:
- Is the video content acceptable to retain in the Training Academy curriculum?
- When revisions/corrections are necessary, will incorporating them be straightforward, or require significant time?
- Will content need to be eliminated from the curriculum?
Winfield said after watching just eight videos, they are already spotting patterns in the material. For instance, she claims some depict cases that have been “racialized,” while others feature the enforcement of laws that have changed since the videos were made.
“The things that are being taught in the video are outdated and frankly incorrect,” she said. “That is very, very concerning if this is a training video for the Austin Police Department.”
But Winfield also raised the concern they are watching the videos “out of context,” without hearing the conversations officers and training professionals are having surrounding the videos.
Ken Casaday, President of the Austin Police Association agrees to their point about context.
“If you are just giving someone a video of a traffic stop that’s gone bad or a subject stop that’s gone bad — I mean, you don’t know what to think. Why the officer is acting the way they are, and why is the suspect acting the way they are?”
He said members of his organization would be glad to come help and add to that dialogue, or he could connect the panel with law enforcement contacts outside of Austin. He noted that years of on-the-job training law enforcement training could bring another perspective to the conversation.
“They are civilians, and I’m not sure how much experience they have with policing or training,” he said.
The panelists told the Public Safety Committee members they were being paid a small fee for their time assessing the videos, but Casaday suggested the city pay panelists full-time to “get the job done.”
He insisted that delaying the audit and the next cadet class would be detrimental to the department.
“We’ve had, in the last couple of days, officers resign — saying the city no longer cares about them. We’ve had numerous people retire this week and last week that we didn’t expect,” he said.
Casaday couldn’t provide the number of retirements or resignations, but said he got word that another officer unexpectedly resigned just the night before.
“Don’t get me wrong, we realize their are changes that need to be made,” he said, but reiterated the importance of the timeline.
Meanwhile, another community panelists, Angelica Erazo suggested to the Public Safety Committee that it might be helpful to have an attorney present during their discussions to point out the rights of citizens depicted in the videos.
“Even the officers themselves didn’t go to law school. They are trained by other law enforcement officers,” criminal defense attorney Leslie Boykin noted.
“Of course, officers are supposed to be trained adequately to know that legal standards they have to abide by. But again, when they are only trained by other law enforcement officers, sometimes I think they get caught up in the ‘Well, that’s the way we’ve always done it’ type-of-thing. That could go back generations.”
She said the panelists need to ensure they understand concepts like “reasonable suspicion to stop and question” or “probable cause to arrest.”
Boykin said it’s important for the panelists to understand the role an officer’s “reasonable perception” of a situation can play in an investigation. Meanwhile, she also noted that in many situations, the only thing someone legally has to tell an officer is their name and date of birth, to identify themselves.
“There are policy differences between different counties,” she explained. “There are legal concepts that are sometimes complex, sometimes not, but most people are unaware of them.”
Erazo and Winfield said they hope their panel gets more time to discuss these complicated concepts and how they are depicted in the APD training videos.
“We need to have dialogue that goes beyond just surveys,” Erazo said.
On Friday, Casaday told KXAN his organization got an update regarding the panel review sessions.
According to the Austin Police Association Facebook page, their organization had learned, “The Austin Police Lieutenant and training instructor are on the panel but are not allowed to contribute to the conversation. They just sit there in silence for 3 hours and listen to everyone talk. APD has offered to bring in the instructors who use these videos in their classes to put it into context, but the panelists said no.”
The Association has not confirmed where they learned these details.
KXAN reached out to the Austin Police Department with questions, but hasn’t yet heard back.