Here’s what a review of Austin police training videos found — and the changes recommended

Austin

Editor’s Note: The video included in this article is from August 2020 and depicts some of the training videos reviewed by the community panel.

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Community representatives and a third-party investigator have completed a seven-month long review of Austin Police Department training videos in an effort to pinpoint racial and gender inequities in cadets’ training and the department’s policing and provide recommendations for future training.

The review comes after Austin City Council put forth a resolution in December 2019 “to eliminate racial bias, bigotry, and discrimination in Austin Police Department (APD) policies, practices and behaviors.” Cadet classes were paused in 2020 in order to have the training materials reviewed.

The representatives reviewed 112 training videos regarding arrests, search and seizure, arrest and control, crisis intervention, de-escalation, tactical communication and use of force, according to the summary of the report.

Findings

The representatives say they found the training videos “perpetuated dangerous racial and class stereotypes,” which showed the working class and communities of color as receiving violent and sometimes deadly responses from police at a disproportionate rate.

“People of color seldom benefited from crisis intervention or de-escalation strategies from officers in videos,” the summary said. “Instead, a strong emphasis on gaining compliance and control over all else from communities of color often led to rapid escalation with often violent and even deadly results for minor infractions.”

Additionally, the report summary said police officers most often showed grace and understanding when interacting with white community members in the videos.

Women, transgender and nonbinary persons were also limited in representation in the videos, the community representatives reported, and female officers were disregarded in interactions.

“We noted a worrisome pattern of white male officers acting violently towards Black women because of perceived slights,” the report summary said.

The community panel said the majority of the videos showed “what not to do” in situations, rather than showing effective solutions, which could reinforce negative behavior among officers.

The language used in the videos by officers when interacting with subjects were often vague, and the community panel said messages like “stop resisting” could be seen as threatening by community members. The interactions seen also reinforced an “us versus them” mentality between officers and community members, the report summary said.

The panel found overreactions and excessive use of force were encouraged by the videos’ idea that every encounter with community members is potentially life threatening. These interactions did not help officers develop genuine, authentic bonds with the community, which helps foster long-term trust, the review said.

Lastly, the panel said the videos came from sources “with clear biases and tended to sensationalize rather than humanize.”

In addition to the biases shown in the videos, the panel said the majority of the videos reviewed were outdated with poor video and audio quality. The panel also suggested to remove the largest number of videos from the tactical communications category.

Graph from APD Training Videos Community Executive Summary
Graph from APD Training Videos Community Executive Summary

The representatives’ report goes along with a report by facilitators at Life Anew, a nonprofit organization that was hired to do a third-party review.

Recommendations

After reviewing the videos, the community panel made a number of recommendations, including identifying and removing biases in training material, developing better learning methods, building trust and positive relationships with communities and emphasizing a need to make changes in the department as a whole. It emphasized the importance of accountability.

“We know that nothing will fundamentally change unless APD also implements a good faith and detailed accountability framework,” the summary stated. “The specifics of what accountability looks like in this context is outside the parameters of this report. We recommend that the APD consult closely with the City of Austin’s Reimagining Public Safety Taskforce on establishing fuller accountability and collaborate with them in developing further recommendations.”

Austin City Manager Spencer Cronk released a statement to KXAN Tuesday, saying the panel’s review is an important part of the Reimagining Public Safety initiative.

“I deeply appreciate their time and effort in providing recommendations to address bias in training materials, improve learning, and to build trust between the community and the Austin Police Department. The RPS Leadership Team and I are reviewing this critical input to help guide the next steps in our public safety reform process,” the statement reads.

The initiative came after the deaths of George Floyd and Michael Ramos and police brutality movements last year. Cities across the country began redirecting funds from their police departments into other community resources, including the City of Austin.

Austin Mayor Steve Adler said training for cadets needs to improve.

“Clearly there’s work to be done. I still believe we need a new cadet class to start, but we all agree that any new cadet class needs better training than what we’ve had in the past,” he said.

Background

Past reports from other city departments have found APD not only has a history of treating communities of color differently, but also fostering a negative culture within the department itself.

In November 2020, the Office of Police Oversight released a report showing people of color in Austin are pulled over at disproportionately higher rates than their percentage of the population. The report used motor vehicle stop data from 2019.

The report also says the data showed a difference in how various parts of the city were treated by officers during traffic stops. Warnings and field observations were found more often on the west side of the city, while arrests were concentrated on the east side of the city.

Also in 2020, the Office of Police Oversight made numerous recommendations to the department to change police conduct, after complaints of “disrespectful or impolite behavior during interactions” from officers.

In January of this year, the City of Austin’s Chief Equity Officer released a memo that made recommendations on how to eliminate racial inequities in APD’s policing. The recommendations included education in the history of institutionalized racism and training in anti-racist principals for cadets.

Also in January, two reports described the APD police academy as having a “paramilitary” or “militarized” mindset. Additionally, cadets said in the reports that trainers used violent, brutal and traumatizing tactics to “manufacture soldiers.”

Racist and sexist language used by instructors was also reported.

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