AUSTIN (KXAN) — For the first time since Austin’s Training Academy was put on hold last summer, the Austin Police Department will resume training cadets next week.
The start of the new cadet class comes 10 months after city leaders shut down the Austin Police Academy.
The new, reimagined, revamped curriculum puts a big focus on de-escalation, more volunteering and community engagement opportunities for cadets and new courses on the history of race and policing in Austin as well as systemic inequities in policing. New Academy leadership will also aim to change the Academy’s culture.
“We are really transitioning from this kind of military styled Academy into one that’s employing adult learning concepts and active learning,” Interim Austin Police Chief Joseph Chacon told KXAN. “We know from our experience and our folks in academia that it leads to a better experience for the cadet, and they’re going to take that knowledge and apply it in the field in a better way.”
Chief Chacon says 75 cadets are approved and ready to go. The department is doing some last-minute background checks and onboarding with others, and plans to have 90 or more ready to enter the Academy by Monday, when it begins.
Chief Chacon says the majority of people in this cadet class are minorities, with 16% being African American, nearly 38% Hispanic and nearly 18% female.
He outlined how consultants, two committees that include community members and city staff will watch and review the Training Academy throughout this pilot class in a memo Tuesday.
Kroll Associates, an independent consulting firm will monitor the entire academy. There are also two committees made up of police and city staff along with community members and academics from local universities. One committee will review every lesson. The other will review every training video before it’s shown.
“What they’re doing is taking course by course, the courses that we teach in the academy and looking at them to make sure we have active learning components, that we are really including the elements of diversity, equity and inclusion, as well as a strong emphasis on de-escalation and communication skills,” Chacon said.
If those oversight groups recommend changes, Chacon continued, “We’re not waiting until the end to evaluate the course. We’re going to be taking those as we deliver them and making adjustments.”
The department has also added Groundwater Analysis training, a new course taught by Joyce James Consulting, which is based in Round Rock. The training focuses entirely on systemic inequities in policing and how to avoid biases officers may not even be aware of when on patrol.
Chacon and others in leadership positions within the department have already gone through the Groundwater Analysis training.
“I can tell you that there were definitely some, “Aha!” moments for me,” the police chief said. “Having awareness of that is obviously going to be very helpful to stop the behavior once you’re aware of it.”
This cadet class will not graduate until February. Then, the new officers will begin field training and riding with other officers. That means it will be May before they’re fully working patrol shifts on their own.
Even with the new cadet class coming in, Chacon says he’s not sure when he’ll be able to move officers taken out of specialized units to cover vacant patrol shifts back to their designated units. He says with continued retirements and resignations, it will take a while to get staffing levels back up to where they need to be.