Austin police chief goes over Austin bombings in Homeland Security hearing

National News

Austin Interim Police Chief Brian Manley shared details of the Austin bombings investigations Wednesday in the nation’s capital.

He spoke to the Homeland Security Committee on the topic of “From Boston to Austin: Lessons Learned on Homeland Threat Information Sharing.” The discussion is examining how coordination between local, state and federal law enforcement has changed and improved since the Boston Marathon bombing in 2013.

The Boston Police Department Commissioner, Chief of Police for the Washington Metropolitan Police Department, as well as members of the Federal Bureau of Investigation and Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives will also testify.

The chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee is Rep. Michael McCaul, who lives in Austin. He called the federal response to the March bombings the largest since Boston.

“I believe that what happened, while tragic in Austin, has become somewhat of a model I think looking forward,” he said during the hearing. 

Manley echoed that statement. 

“I think the constant communication throughout the event is what I think we should model going forward for a community that would find themselves in this circumstance, praying that they don’t but if they do, this absolutely worked,” he said. “The events that took place in Austin would have overwhelmed any police department across this country. The largest included. To have the federal assets come into town to be able to go through the amount of data we were pulling… there was never a hesitation.” 

Pivoting from the success of the local and federal response, a question was raised about racial bias in policing and what more needs to be done. 

U.S. Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-New Jersey) used the focus of the Austin bombings to address discrimination that can come with today’s “see something, say something” culture. 

“Many are indeed concerned that they could be a target of unfounded and discriminatory reporting from their neighbors, simply because of their religion or how they look or whatever,” Rep. Watson Coleman said, stressing the importance of how law enforcement response to incoming tips. 

“To your knowledge, are police departments being sort of re-trained, culturally informed now?” She asked Manley. 

“We regularly train officers in the area of cultural sensitivity and diversity, most recently having put the entire police department through fair and impartial police training where we look at biases – both conscious and unconscious biases – and how those can impact your thought, but that you cannot let them impact your actions. So speaking from my agency, we’ve taken some pretty aggressive stance towards this.”  

APD rolled out the 10-hour course in February 2017 and held its final classes in October. Last year, APD also updated its internal policy on racial or bias-based policing. 

Rep. Watson Coleman then asked D.C. Police Chief Peter Newsham if there is a national standard. 

“I don’t believe there is a standardized training that’s being applied to all the agencies across the country,” he replied. 

Manley told KXAN, “I think that there should be some minimum requirements that go into this training, but that departments should be able to right-size it for their community’s needs.”

WATCH the briefing here:

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