Commission tasked with reviewing APD seeks community feedback on department’s use-of-force policies

Austin

AUSTIN (KXAN) — The verdict in the Derek Chauvin trial is spurring conversations about police reform and use of force nationwide this week. In Austin, people from across the city weighed in on the Community Police Review Commission’s “8 Can’t Wait Town Hall” Wednesday night.

“There’s a collective mourning. There’s a mourning personally. There’s a mourning for my family and family members who look like me and a mourning as a community that these are real lives that we are losing to police violence,” said Commissioner Amani Seay, chair of the Community Police Review Commission.

The commission’s Wednesday night town hall focused on the national “8 Can’t Wait” campaign, which hones in on specific policies to reduce police brutality in major cities across the nation, including Austin.

The goal is to help shape Austin Police Department’s policies and address public safety concerns. According to the campaign, the blue and green check marks (displayed below) show the five policies APD has in place.

But it says the city is still reviewing policies involving banning shooting at moving vehicles, exhausting all alternatives before shooting and comprehensive reporting, that includes required reporting for when an officer aims a firearm at someone.

This graphic shows policies part of the 8 Can’t Wait campaign the Austin Police Department already has in place in regards to use of force and which policies they’re still reviewing. Courtesy: https://8cantwait.org/

“In the wake of recent officer-involved shootings, the questions about when and how Austin police officers use force have never been more important,” said Commissioner Sukyi McMahon. 

In January 2021, the City of Austin Office of Police Oversight (OPO) released a review of the 8 Can’t Wait recommendations as a starting point to recommend changes to APD policies. The town hall hosted by the Community Police Review Commission will build from OPO’s recommendations by facilitating community feedback.

When KXAN asked OPO where does Austin stand on the “8 Can’t Wait” use of force policies, a spokesperson provided the following response:

The Office of Police Oversight conducted research related to six of the eight policy issues at the center of 8 Can’t Wait. As part of this research, OPO conducted a comparative analysis of policies from police departments around the country which, according to Campaign Zero, align with model policies that can lead to a reduction in deadly use of force. OPO’s research revealed that APD’s policies in these areas require substantive revision to be effective and align with the City of Austin’s position.

  1. Restrict shooting at moving vehicles: Under current policy, shooting at moving vehicles is not sufficiently restricted. Current policy is silent on the issue of shooting from a moving vehicle.
  2. Exhaust all alternatives before using deadly force: Under current deadly force policy, there is no requirement to exhaust all alternatives.
  3. De-escalation: Under current policy, definitions for “de-escalation” and “de-escalation techniques” provide little detail and no examples. The term “potential force encounters” is not defined. Current policy does not adequately acknowledge or address factors outside of deliberate noncompliance that may affect someone’s ability to comply with officer commands. Policy presents the potential for de-escalation efforts to fail but does not explain the reasons that may happen. The current policy makes treating people with dignity optional.
  4. Duty to intervene in cases of improper or excessive use of force: Under current policy, terms used are vague or undefined. The policy does not specify the means for intervening. The policy’s scope is too narrow. Department hierarchical issues are not addressed. Reporting requirements are not defined.
  5. Ban chokeholds and strangleholds: Chokeholds and strangleholds are not categorically banned. Under current policy, the terms used are not defined. The policy’s scope is too narrow. Directives are inconsistent.
  6. Warn before shooting: Without further detail in policy, feasibility language is ambiguous. Policy is more robust for less-lethal force warnings. Policy does not specify how a warning should be given.

OPO will be using a three-phase approach to conduct the rewrite of APD’s General Orders. In Resolutions 95 and 96, City Council further instructed that OPO conduct this rewrite through an open process, seeking feedback and input from the community.

  • In Phase I, OPO will conduct a preliminary analysis of current policy language; all analysis will be made available on atxpoliceoversight.org.
  • In Phase II, OPO will work with community partners and stakeholders to gather input from the public about proposed changes to policies. This outreach effort will include events, surveys, and other forms of community engagement.
  • In Phase III, OPO will submit policy recommendations and community feedback to APD. APD, in consultation with the City Manager’s Office, will review the recommendations and modify as appropriate prior to final incorporation. APD will subsequently bring the proposed modified General Orders to Council for feedback in accordance with Resolution 95.

Next month, the Community Police Review Commission will share written recommendations shaped by Wednesday night’s conversation with the public, APD and Austin City Council. You can contact the commission by calling (512) 974-9000 or emailing cprc@austintexas.gov.

Police review commission history

The commission consists of 10 unpaid volunteers appointed by the city manager in September 2020 to review APD’s practices and police misconduct and make recommendations on behalf of the community in regards to discipline, training and the complaint process.

The volunteers are also tasked with assessing the effectiveness of OPO. The commission is separate from OPO and any other City of Austin organization.

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