Austin police oversight takes first step toward APD policy change for use-of-force incidents

Austin

AUSTIN (KXAN) – The City of Austin’s Office of Police Oversight is recommending changes to how and when the Austin Police Department uses force.

It’s part of a larger re-write of department policy ordered by city council last year following protests sparked by the deaths of George Floyd in Minnesota and Mike Ramos here in Austin.

The latest report, released by OPO late last week, suggests changes in eight use-of-force areas that line up with Campaign Zero’s “8 Can’t Wait” recommendations. “8 Can’t Wait” advocates for more restrictive use of force policies.

For example, OPO is recommending APD revise its policies related to shooting into a moving vehicle.

In both the cases of Mike Ramos, and more recently — Alex Gonzales, an APD officer shot at a moving car with criminal suspects inside. In the Gonzales case, a woman believed to be his girlfriend was shot. Neither officer who fired their weapons in these instances has been charged. The Travis County District Attorney is taking the Ramos case to a grand jury next month.

“Shooting at a moving vehicle is difficult and can lead to innocent or uninvolved third parties being harmed,” OPO’s report said. “In addition, when shooting at a vehicle results in the driver being wounded or killed, the threat presented by the vehicle is not necessarily eliminated”

The report says APD doesn’t sufficiently restrict the practice enough and offered two exceptions through its recommendations: when a weapon other than the car is being used against officers or if officers feel the car would be used in a “mass casualty incident.”

The recommendations cover a broader range of use-of-force topics, like de-escalation, chokeholds and strangleholds and comprehensive reporting of use of force incidents. The full report can be viewed here.

As of this story’s publishing, APD had not responded to our questions about the recommendations. Chief Brian Manley was not available for an on-camera interview Monday.

Office of Police Oversight Director Farah Muscadin was also not available for an interview. The city department told us by email this is the first phase of a multistep process. During the second phase, OPO will take the recommendations to the public for feedback. This will include virtual community conversations. 

OPO says it will integrate the community’s feedback and provide final policy recommendations to City Management, APD and City Council for review and implementation.

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