Council resolution could put Austin Police cadet classes on pause

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Austin (KXAN) — A resolution going before Austin City Council Thursday calls for a number of measures to address inequity and allegations of racism. Among the components in that resolution is a call to pause the initiation of Austin Police cadet classes.

Specifically, the resolution, if approved, would do quite a few things.

One part would support Austin’s City Manager in hiring an independent investigator (the investigator has been hired and the process is underway) to look into allegations of racism within Austin Police leadership.

Another part of the resolution would undertake a comprehensive investigation and evaluation of the Austin Police Department for racism and other discriminatory attitudes, looking at data points including social media posts, texts, and emails from APD officers.

Yet another part calls on the City Manager’s office to start an audit of APD’s hiring protocols. The City Manager would be directed to make sure no new cadet classes are initiated until the audit is complete and new training materials are given out, which could take as long as September of 2020.

The resolution states that the city is “is committed to undoing its racist past and combatting and denouncing racism in present-day Austin.”

The resolution was brought forward by Austin City Council Member Natasha Harper-Madison and is sponsored by Council Member Jimmy Flannigan, Council Member Greg Casar, Mayor Pro Tem Delia Garza, and Council Member Pio Renteria. Council Member Natasha Harper-Madison led a press conference in November after City manager Spencer Cronk told City Leaders he had approved an outside investigation into an anonymous complaint.

Allegations of racism

The anonymous complaint was filed with Austin’s Office of Police Oversight. The complainant made allegations against former Austin Police Assistant Chief Justin Newsom as well as other members of APD leadership. The complaint alleges that Newsom used racist and derogatory language toward African Americans over the course of ten years. Newsom retired the day after the date this complaint was listed as being filed.

Among other things, allegations in the complaint say that Newsom used a racial slur to describe Austin Police Detective Lamarcus Wells. Wells announced after the details of this complaint were made public that he would be suing the city, accusing the department of racism. Wells said that black employees were routinely passed up for moving up in positions at APD. The Austin Police Association has expressed support for Wells’ suit.

Council Member Harper-Madison sent KXAN a statement saying that while she believes protecting the investigation into these allegations should be “among our highest priorities right now,” she also believes the city must also investigate “how entrenched any culture of racism may be in our department.”

“By no means do I believe that every APD officer is a racist,” Harper- Madison said. “I do believe that a great many of them selflessly put their lives on the line every day to protect each and every one of us. But I also believe that the pathogen of prejudice may have entered the body and we must act quickly and aggressively to diagnose it and treat it for the sake of the health of our entire municipality.”

Chas Moore, executive director of the Austin Justice Coalition, explained that he supports the entire resolution and believes new classes of cadets should be paused while these allegations are investigated.

“If we have a police department that is serious about changing and we bring people into that, I’m OK with that,” Moore said. “But right now we cannot bring people into a police department that has for years been accused of racism, and bias and discrimination.”

City leaders have acknowledged racial disparities in the arrests made by Austin Police, noting that African American and Latinx residents are more likely to be arrested than their white neighbors.

“It’s kind of like a disease right?” Moore said. “Like why would I bring someone into an infected house? Let me clean the house to make sure you don’t get sick as well, right?”

“So how can we make sure that we are doing the best we can to rid this police department, this institution of as many of the flaws as possible before we bring in other people that will only naturally inherit whatever they come into?” he continued.

Moore added that he is willing to work with other players in the community to figure out the best way to proceed.

“I invite whoever, city manager, city council — whoever — [Austin Police Association President] Casaday, anyone that is serious about wanting to change the police department so that we can fill those vacancies,” Moore said.

Vacancies in the department

Austin Police Department and the Austin Police Association have been vocal in recent years about the need for more officers among their ranks and the difficulties the department has had in retaining employees.

Ken Casaday, the president of Austin Police Association, says presently the department has 171 vacancies.

“We have officers working their fingers to the bone, they are working 60 to 70 hours a week which is much more than they probably should be working,” Casaday said. “We’re thankful that the overtime is there, but there comes a point where it’s just too much.”

Casaday said the police union supports the part of the resolution that supports the City Manager’s investigation into allegations of racism.

“We have an allegation made against an assistant chief that’s being looked at, he is being accused of making racist comments, absolutely that should be looked at,” Casaday said.

But Casaday said that APA doesn’t support the part of the resolution which calls for the investigation into racist or discriminatory attitudes — particularly the part which calls for looking at officers’ social media and text history.

“If they’re going to do that, they need to do that for EMS and Fire and all city employees, we just don’t need to be picking on one group,” he said.

The part of the resolution which APA is most concerned about is the part which suggests pausing the initiation of cadet classes.

“We absolutely are deadset against delaying the academy,” he said. “We were actually the first ones to call for an independent investigation [into the allegations of racism] and we’re the ones being punished. “

Casaday estimates that holding off any new academies would leave the apartment with between 220 and 250 vacancies by April of 2020.

“Once we get past 200 people short it’s going to get almost impossible to recover,” he said.

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