AUSTIN (KXAN) — With attrition rates high within the Austin Police Department, the Austin Police Association is calling for another cadet class to begin as soon as possible.
The current Reimagined Police Academy, which is a pilot class for changes made over the past year, began last month. Cadets will graduate in February, do field training, then be ready for regular patrol shifts in May.
As of right now, the plan is for the current cadet class to end before city leaders review how this class went and decide whether to move forward with another. However, Austin Police Association President Ken Casaday said too many officers are leaving the department at too fast a pace to wait that long.
“We’re losing 15 to 20 people a month,” Casaday said. “So you do the math.”
Interim Police Chief Joseph Chacon echoed those same figures last week at an event. He said before the pandemic, the normal attrition rate was about five to seven officers retiring or quitting a month.
Chacon estimated by the time current cadets graduate, do field training and start full patrol in May, he’ll still have another 235 vacancies to fill. He said he’s been urging council members for help.
“I am not waiting for them to call me. I am calling them and making sure they understand that we are in crisis,” Chacon said.
Casaday proposes another cadet class could start now, months before the pilot class finishes, since it’s being reviewed by outsiders in real time.
“I was out there the other day, and they’re monitoring very closely,” Casaday said. “There’s civilians out there that work for Kroll. There’s activists monitoring the training going on. There’s no reason we can’t start another class, as long as you have the same process. We don’t have time right now. We are in a dire situation.”
Casaday said he and officers have been trying to get that message across.
“Our employees are telling our chief and our council members and our city manager we need another academy class now, and they’re tone deaf. They’re not listening, because they’re not out there having to handle that every day.”
KXAN requested comment from Mayor Steve Adler and every Austin city council member. Most of those who responded said this is the first they’ve heard of a request for a fall cadet class.
“So far, at least, I had not heard that APD is looking at initiating another cadet class before the current one is complete, and so I don’t have any opinion on that just yet,” said Council Member Leslie Pool in a statement. “I continue to support planning for two, and possibly three cadet classes in 2022. I am looking forward to a good discussion about these plans and many other topics with my colleagues, staff and District 7 residents as the budget for FY22 takes shape.”
The city’s budget discussions for the next fiscal year will begin Friday.
Council Member Kathie Tovo said she’s aware of the department’s staffing needs.
“I met with Chief Chacon, and I know that staffing is a concern and a priority for him. It’s certainly a concern and a priority for me, as well, and I’m going to support continued cadet classes with the assumption that this revised curriculum is working as anticipated,” Tovo told KXAN. “We want to be sure that, you know, that the curriculum worked well, that the academy worked well, that the management has an opportunity to respond to any necessary changes.”
Then, after a little more time, Tovo said, “If Chief Chacon believes that the the right thing to do is to have have another one happening simultaneously beginning in the fall, I’m certainly open to that conversation.”
In a statement, Adler told KXAN, “I have very publicly supported the continuation of cadet classes, which have already re-started, to address both staffing levels and to produce the change agents the community wants. It seems most responsible for the Council first to hear the budget deliberations about how the new curriculum and recruiting are going as well as the fiscal flexibility available in order to assess the appropriate timing for classes next year.”
Mayor Pro Tem Natasha Harper-Madison also sent a statement, saying, “Having a fully staffed, well-paid, well-trained police department is critical to public safety in our city. I’m open to getting there however way we can as long as it’s fiscally responsible and we know it’s being done in a way that resolves the critical issues within APD that created chronic staffing shortages long before the events of last summer.”