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Austin OKs million-dollar contract to audit police department

Friday, November 13, 2020 by Audrey McGlinchy, KUT

The city of Austin has agreed to pay a New York City-based consultant up to $1.3 million to investigate racism and bigotry in the Austin Police Department, including looking into materials used to train new officers and reviewing instances where police injured or killed someone.

The contract took nearly a year to put in place. City Council members originally voted for the audit last December after the Office of Police Oversight received anonymous complaints that an assistant police chief had used a derogatory term for Black people. The vote came months before the nationwide protests against racial injustice and demands that local politicians cut and reinvest money from police budgets.

“There comes a time in everybody’s existence to have to do something really hard because it’s worth it,” Council Member Natasha Harper-Madison said before Council voted on the audit in December. “I think it’s time for the Austin Police Department to do something really hard because it’s worth it.”

The Council has asked that this third-party investigation be finished by December 2021, but it’s unclear whether the Covid-19 pandemic will push that deadline. Council members did not discuss the contract before voting on it at their meeting Thursday. The vote was 10-0, with Mayor Steve Adler out of town.

The city is asking Kroll Associates Inc. to do the following:

  • Analyze APD training practices, including courses, materials, internal reports and interviews with former cadets
  • Research national standards in policing, including best practices for police academies, reducing use of force and improving communication with diverse communities
  • Recommend improvements to APD recruitment and promotion practices, including screening candidates for cadet classes and promotion
  • Recommend incorporating the participation of community groups representing those disproportionately affected by policing in the development of new police training
  • Assess recruitment and promotion practices related to diversity and inclusion, including role of assessment centers
  • Review use-of-force incident reports from June 2019 to November 2019, analyzing them by location, any resulting charges, the outcome of each incident, and demographic information (including race, ethnicity and language spoken) of all persons involved
  • Review aggregate data on every recorded interaction from June 2019 to November 2019 between APD and any member of the public, including type of interaction and its outcome (search, arrest with charges, citation with charges) and an evaluation on whether there are racial and/or ethnic or other disparities in searches, arrests, charges and citations

When Council voted back in December, members asked City Manager Spencer Cronk and his staff to separately review and make changes to how the department trains new officers. Council members asked him to bring that assessment to them by June, directing APD to hold off on convening any new cadet-training classes until then.

But Cronk delayed its release, citing the pandemic. In August, Council members went ahead and voted to cancel three upcoming cadet-training classes as part of a vote to cut and reinvest millions from APD’s budget.

As of Thursday, it was unclear whether this internal review would be made public. A city spokesperson told KUT the city manager’s office had finished the review, but was waiting for final approval by “all parties.”

“The review will be provided to the consultant,” city spokesperson Andy Tate wrote in a text message. “We’ll be in a better position to confirm (if it’ll be made public) once the review has been reviewed/approved.”

This story was produced as part of the Austin Monitor’s reporting partnership with KUT.

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