AUSTIN (KXAN) — The Austin Police Department’s use of force guidelines are under added scrutiny with a new department policy.
The change is, in part, an answer to calls for more oversight after the arrest of Austin teacher Breaion King, who was thrown to the ground by an officer during a traffic stop on June 15, 2015.
As a result of short staffing, “level three” use of force — the lowest level that involves controlling a subject with bare hands — was only reviewed up to the lieutenant level. Now that will include the commander overseeing that officer, as well as a peer commander from another chain of command.
The department says it is a short term solution, and a committee is in the process of deciding what will work best in the long run.
Chas Moore with Austin Justice Coalition was part of a select group invited to a meeting Monday with APD where their top brass first rolled out the changes.
“I’m excited for the changes,” said Moore. “I think if you had three sets of eyes on that video I’m pretty sure one of them would’ve been like, ‘hey this looks like a red flag.'”
Assistant Chief Troy Gay said he hopes the new policy does not make officers reluctant to deal with combative suspects. “I mean, of course we can’t control how an officer feels, but clearly we’re an agency that is transparent,” Gay said. “Any time an officer is out there and conducts himself — we have audits on their traffic stops. We look at any particular situation whether it be use of force or not.”
Austin NAACP President Nelson Linder calls the change a public relations move.
“This is not nearly enough,” said Linder. “I’m seeing a process and frankly we’re sick and tired of processes.”
He wants to see more focus on officer discipline.
“Bad personnel will not make a policy better. You have to address the problem itself,” said Linder.
King’s arrest drew a rebuke from the Austin police chief after another officer was heard on camera suggesting that African-Americans had “violent tendencies.”
Chief Acevedo said he was not aware of the two videos and the arrest until July 19 of this year, when Travis County District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg approached him about it.
Austin Police Monitor Margo Frasier said she was concerned after not being notified of the dash camera video by Austin police. Frasier said she has advocated for APD to let her office review every use of force report by police.