Friday, January 22, 2021 by Sumaiya Malik, Reporting Texas

Reimagining Public Safety task force asks for hold on cadet classes

A public meeting of the task force for Reimagining Public Safety reviewed a report Wednesday about the presence of racial and gender bias and the use of unnecessary force in training cadets at the Austin Police Academy.

The task force highlighted the problems and made recommendations for how to restart the academy after the issues were resolved.

The task force voted on a motion to formally lodge an objection “to any effort by the City of Austin and APD to move forward with any new cadet classes until further notice as determined by the board after reassessing the training of the City of Austin Police Department.”

In a vote of 13-0-5, the majority voted to recommend not restarting the police academy. Office of Police Oversight Director Farah Muscadin, Deputy City Manager Nuria Rivera-Vandermyde, Assistant City Manager Rey Arellano and Cary Roberts abstained from the vote.

Six community members on the task force – Angelica Erazo, Joe Anderson, Maya Pilgrim, Phil Hopkins, Andrea Black and Miriam Conner – were selected by the Austin Equity Office to evaluate APD cadet training videos. Though they released their report earlier this week, the group members say they are far from done.

“We feel uncomfortable with the curriculum as it stands,” Erazo said.

“Whatever APD has been doing in the way of changing the curriculum has very much been in the black box,” task force member Kathy Mitchell said. “APD has been downplaying, sidelining and claiming that there is nothing to see here for three years or more,” she added, saying the depth of the problem has been known since 2018.

The 26-page report called out the presence of racial bias, gender stereotypes and the absence of smooth communication visible in the Police Academy training videos.

The task force viewed a selection of training videos made by the collaborative effort of the Office of the Police Oversight and Austin Police Department.

“We wanted to prioritize the areas where officers have the most involvement with the community. And those were the areas that we recommended that the panel focus on,” Muscadin said.

Though the meeting ran over time, the task force continued to express concerns.

“In the Violence Prevention Report, we were told that our police department had the highest killing per capita of residents than any other municipal police department in the state, so we’re ranked number one,” Chief Equity Officer Brion Oaks said.

“We are really troubled by the pattern of injuries that we see sustained in the academy. And in particular, the experience of black cadets with a graduation rate (of) 48 percent for black cadets, compared to 85 percent for white cadets,” he added. “We have an issue with the disproportionate searches for black and brown folks. We know that we have the problem of stops and arrests. So how is all that tangibly in (cadet) training?” he said.

Based on the concerns of the task force, he suggested some amendments to the motion to clarify specific areas of accountability.

Members of the task force were concerned that they had no confirmation from APD that their recommendations about the videos would be implemented by the academy.

The task force also touched on some other aspects of cadet training that would play a role in trying to address the issue of racial bias.

“Any cadet class should have a robust community conversation – we could reconvene to find out when it is safe for the continuation of cadet classes,” said Chas Moore, founder and executive director of Austin Justice Coalition and a member of the task force.

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Key Players & Topics In This Article

Austin Police Department: the law enforcement entity for the City of Austin.

Reimaging Public Safety Task Force

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