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Racial inequity at APD front and center at Public Safety Commission

Tuesday, February 2, 2021 by Jonathan Lee

Public Safety commissioners took a closer look at racial issues in the Austin Police Department, diving into a recent report on the subject at their Monday meeting.

A survey of over 1,000 APD officers and staff about their attitudes toward race and racism found “significant differences” in responses from white, Black and Hispanic respondents. The survey covered racism within the department and the way race relates to work culture, job satisfaction, hiring and promotion practices, and how well the force interacts with the community. 

“African Americans are in less agreement that APD does not tolerate racism, institutional and structural racism, (and) non-discriminatory practices,” consultant Joyce James told the Public Safety Commission in a presentation of the survey’s findings. 

“African Americans were less satisfied with the workplace climate related to things like promotions, complaints (and) fairness” compared to other respondents, James said. Black respondents also thought that APD had more to do to improve its relationship with the community, while white respondents viewed the force’s community policing efforts more positively. 

The survey was part of an audit of the department that also summarized previous reports and profiling data. James said the survey amplifies the evidence of a “long history” of racism within the department that persists today.

In an open answer section, multiple survey respondents pointed to the need for change within the organization. “We cannot provide service to the community in fair and equitable ways unless we look at ourselves first,” one said. Another said, “If we can’t take care of our own people properly, how are we going to take care of the people we serve?”

James said while the city needs to hold APD leaders accountable for improving the department’s anti-racist efforts, the leaders also need help doing so. “Most leaders have not been trained to lead work to undo racism,” she said. She said if APD leadership receives outside help, “we may see the data begin to change.”

James provided several “quick wins” – changes the department could swiftly implement – as well as longer-term solutions. Her top recommendation was “to widely circulate this report within the agency to open up the internal communication lines.” Some of the other quick wins included more internal anti-racist messaging, community engagement efforts and anti-racist training. 

APD Chief of Staff Troy Gay said that the department has been trying to improve in numerous ways, and that staffers have undergone lots of training already. He said the department will take this most recent report into consideration. “Several of these things we’re in agreement with,” he said. “It’s just going to take us time to go ahead and work to develop our Equity Action Plan, which we’re working with the Equity Office to do.” 

Commissioners asked when the changes might be implemented, hoping some could be incorporated into training for the new cadet class, which may begin sometime this spring. 

Gay said that the department needs Council’s approval to contract more outside equity help, which could be at least eight weeks away.

Photo made available through a Creative Commons license.

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