AUSTIN (KXAN) — Following a week of protests against police brutality, the Austin Police Department has implemented a new community engagement team to listen to demonstrator’s concerns.
Department leadership told KXAN that community policing is always at the forefront of what they do.
But the recent uprising following the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis — and several instances of forceful policing against protesters over the weekend in Austin — has led to a concerted effort to engage and maintain peace.
“Community members just want to be heard. Those that come here, they have the right to air their grievances to their government, to their police department. So what better way than to dedicate a whole team for that function,” said Commander Chris Vallejo, with APD.
Leo Guidry, a protester who has lived in Austin since 1977, was protesting outside of APD headquarters on Friday. He wanted to voice his concerns with the department he said has a long history of police brutality.
“People get hurt, people get killed. There is very little prosecution and there is very little accountability for that,” Guidry said. “This is not a generational thing. This is something that has happened over many generations.”
Guidry said that in his 43 years in Central Texas, he hasn’t seen much change. However, he was pleased to see APD taking a proactive approach.
“Communication is always a good thing,” he said. “Talking with a police officer, any police officer, on a human level breaks down the preconceived notions on both parts.”
Commander Vallejo expressed empathy for people of color in Austin who feel neglected. A longtime Austinite, he said it’s also important for officers to share their feelings with the people to give them a chance to understand what it’s like to serve behind the badge.
“I’m born and raised here in Austin, Texas. My family comes from directly across that highway,” Vallejo said. “Policing is not something that we do to a community. It’s something we do with the community.”
“It’s not just an ‘us against them’ kind of thing. We are one with our community. It’s what we believe in and so we want people to know that,” said Detective Rafael Kianes.
Also important, the officers KXAN spoke to on Friday said they also have their own feelings which they want to share with the community. They said there are certain hardships you face when you wear a badge.
They hope the community will listen to them, too.