Coronavirus delays APD audit, June cadet classes could be in jeopardy

Austin

AUSTIN (KXAN) — The initial investigation into allegations of racism at the Austin Police Department has taken longer than expected.

City Manager Spencer Cronk launched the audit last fall after a complaint of racist posts by a former assistant police chief, who then abruptly resigned.

That investigation was supposed to be complete in February. When we checked in February, the city said it would release a written report in the next few weeks. It’s now been over a month. City officials blamed the delay — at least partly — on the coronavirus. City officials said the third-party report should be completed soon.

KXAN was expecting to get an update at the Public Safety Commission meeting but it was canceled. Chair Meghan Hollis said it was a logistic move as they work to figure out the best way to meet virtually.

Until the current investigation is complete, City Council will not be able to launch its own separate audit into APD’s culture and hiring practices. That puts the June cadet class in jeopardy. The Public Safety Commission recommended pausing new hiring in December. However, APD is already facing staffing challenges with the pandemic.

“That’s a big concern of mine,” Hollis said about the need of officers. “I think we have to balance the need for having officers on the ground, officers in place, and officers coming up.”

She said her biggest concern at present is public safety and keeps in mind how coronavirus could impact APD officers saying, “If they’re understaffed and god forbid, we watched it happened with some of our other public safety agencies where they are losing their people right now because they are getting infected, ending up in hospitals and in some cases dying. We have seen that in some of the other major cities and that’s a concern.”

Another good point Hollis brought up is will we even be able to hold cadet classes like we always have? With coronavirus, the question is: How will we train our future police officers if this continues to be a threat?

Here’s a timeline from city officials:

  • End of Oct., 2019 – allegations against former Police Chief Newsom become public
  • Nov. 7, 2019 – City Manager Spencer Cronk announces independent investigation
  • Nov. 15, 2019 – Cronk announces Lisa Tatum as the investigator to look into allegations against Newsom
  • Dec. 5, 2019 – Council passes resolution requiring an additional holistic investigation into the APD more broadly, addresses Cadet Class, ask for update on Tatum investigation by Jan. 23.
  • Jan. 14, 2020 – Cronk updates Council on Tatum investigation – anticipates end of Feb. completion. Explains work on audit requested by December resolution will depend upon completion of the Tatum’s investigation.
  • Feb. 24, 2020 – Cronk updates Council on Tatum investigation – will not be complete by end of Feb. but anticipates next few weeks.
  • Feb. 26, 2020 – The City begins COVID-19 response planning & operations.

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