AUSTIN (KXAN) — The City of Austin has delayed the start of the next police until July, as the city works to complete an audit of its training material to address any potential bias or discrimination.
The class had previously been scheduled for June, when the audit was set to be completed, but the City of Austin says “the scope of work and the unanticipated impact of the city-wide response to COVID-19” means it will take at least another month to complete.
Last December, the Austin City Council passed a resolution that called for, among other things, updating the police academy materials and curriculum. It was part of an effort to address inequity and allegations of racism within the department.
The resolution also called for hiring an independent investigator to look into allegations of racism and homophobia within the department. Those findings by Tatum Law Firm were released April 17 and, although it did not find conclusive evidence to prove or disprove the specific complaints, it suggested numerous changes within the department.
City Manager Spencer Cronk acknowledged that the delay in the cadet class is not ideal because of the number of vacancies in the department, but he said it is necessary to finish the audit first.
“Racist language, slurs, intolerance, and derogatory behaviors – implicit or explicit – are completely unacceptable in our organization and it is my expectation that every person is treated with dignity and respect,” Cronk wrote in a news release. “This audit provides an opportunity to reinforce that commitment and identify where we can improve to ensure that our officers are being trained to provide the policing our community expects and deserves.”
Staff from Cronk’s office, the Office of Police Oversight, the Equity Office, APD’s Organizational Development and Training Manager, an outside academic consultant and select community members are working together to conduct the audit of the 32-week Cadet Academy curriculum.
Cronk said in a memo to Mayor Steve Adler and Council members that they expect to be done reviewing the course by June 1 and will have suggestions for any changes by mid-June, wrapping up the whole process by mid-July.
“Opportunity to get it right”
Austin City Council Member Natasha Harper-Madison told KXAN this is an opportunity for the Austin community and the police department to achieve the same goal, “the same goal being equity for all, access for all and the best quality of life possible in the City of Austin for everybody because we all deserve that.”
She said, “The Tatum report, it was a damning report. The document basically detailed some really serious problems within our police department, so I’d like for our upcoming cadets to be able to have the opportunity to be trained in a way that we produce the best officers possible.”
The audit calls for a review of the cadets’ training materials on:
- Professionalism & Ethics
- Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender (LGBT)
- Multiculturalism & Human Relations
- Racial Profiling; History of Policing
- Fair & Impartial Policing
- Deaf & Hearing Impaired
- Cultural Diversity
It’ll also review video materials that cover:
- Use of Force
- Arrest; Search & Seizure
- De-escalation Strategies
- Crisis Intervention Team (CIT)
- Tactical Communications
- Arrest & Control (Tactical Week/Defense Tactics)
Harper-Madison said while she understands concerns about being short-staffed and the delay impacting the staffing, “Everybody remember why we’re here in the first place. We can reflect back to the original allegations… and recognize that we have serious problems within our department. We have to do our best to establish some degree of expectation and proficiency before we move forward with training new cadets.”
She added, “What I’m hearing from the community is a deep desire to right wrongs, a deep desire to have systems that have historically been biased get better.”
Concerns about APD’s staffing
The Austin Police Department told KXAN it has 162 vacancies right now.
The Austin Police Association President Ken Casaday said APD’s cadet training is already two months longer than what other police departments offer.
“I think once they get into looking at the curriculum that’s taught out there, they will be shocked at all the training that we do compared to all the other departments,” he said.
According to Casaday, about 45 officers have already been re-assigned from parks and lakes to fill the holes elsewhere caused by the staffing shortage.
“We’re moving officers from parks and lakes. People that should be patrolling parks and lakes and Zilker Park are now probably up in Northeast and Northwest Austin,” Casaday explained. “We’re having a lot of issues in the parks right now. There are certain people in the community that want us out there, educating other people in the parks on social distancing and making sure people wear masks, but it’s kind of hard to do when you’re in other areas of the city.”
The APA President added, “In a way I’m glad they’re doing it just so they can see it, but they know what we do. The city management knows what we do. This is going to be one more study that shows wow, the Austin Police Department does a fantastic job at training their officers.”
The Austin Police Department told KXAN in a statement:
“The Austin Police Department will be ready to begin this class in mid-July and we look forward to providing these cadets with the best training and environment in which to learn. We understand the importance of the reviews of the training materials currently underway, and look forward to reviewing the findings and implementing changes where appropriate.”