Austin Police told to rewrite its policy to cut down on officers using force

Austin

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Change could be coming to Austin Police policy when it comes to how officers are authorized to use force.

Austin’s Office of Police Oversight released a new report Wednesday asking the Austin Police Department to rework its current policy, strengthening language about de-escalation and forbidding some types of police force.

The recommendations outlined suggest APD officers should do a better job of de-escalating tense situations, exhaust all other options before using force, give more warning before firing their guns and step in if they see fellow officers using force excessively. Restricting shooting at a moving vehicle is another recommendation on the list.

Meanwhile, some of the recommended policy changes were already made by city council last year, like banning chokeholds. A rewrite of officers’ policy manual could help make that more clear.

“I think these are elementary,” said Austin civil rights attorney Bobby Taylor. “They’re basic. These should be first thought. There should be no question that these should be implemented, should be and should have been years ago.”

Taylor and attorney Jeff Edwards both represent people who reported being hurt by Austin Police in the May 2020 protests.

“There were officers blanketly pepper spraying crowds, pushing people down embankments and firing weapons,” Edwards said of the protests. “It doesn’t take the Office of Police Oversight to say that you shouldn’t be shooting a weapon into crowds of people and hitting people who’ve done nothing wrong.”

Both attorneys stress a need for true accountability, not just a policy rewrite.

“Because once they fire that weapon and use deadly force, there’s no second chance. That’s it, they’re dead,” Taylor said of those police use deadly force against.

Edwards says he wants to see APD do a better job of disciplining officers when they do break their own rules.

“When you’re the chief of police, the job is to actually hold people accountable, so that other officers are deterred from engaging in similar conduct,” Edwards said, adding he hopes newly-confirmed Chief Joseph Chacon will do so.

“Police officers who are on the line, they make mistakes like everybody else. But the real problem that we see is that, you know, there isn’t accountability when officers do things that violate APD policies, or at best, the account of the alleged accountability is put off, you know, for over a year, while these officers get to continue policing,” Edwards said, referring to officers who are administratively cleared to return to duty but then are criminally convicted for wrongdoing.

It will now be up to APD leadership to make changes to the department’s policy based on the Office of Police Oversight’s recommendations. The rewritten policy will have to be approved by Austin City Council before being finalized.

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