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APD details cadet academy reforms

Wednesday, March 3, 2021 by Jonathan Lee

The Austin Police Department presented reforms to its cadet academy at Tuesday’s City Council work session, moving Council closer to a vote on restarting the academy after halting it last summer.

The changes respond to a preliminary report by consulting group Kroll Associates. More broadly, they answer longtime calls for change that crescendoed last summer during protests against police brutality and institutional racism.

APD Chief Brian Manley said that the department agrees with the consultant’s recommendations and expects to put all of the recommended short-term fixes in place by mid-April.

Here are some of the changes underway (a full list can be found here):

  • A complete, independent review of academy curriculum
  • Altered coursework to include a “narrative” of diversity, equity and inclusion throughout
  • More emphasis on classroom learning and less on “paramilitary-style” boot camp training 
  • Inviting civilian experts and police reform activists to help instruct courses
  • An end to “fight day,” an exercise consultants said functioned as a hazing ritual and contributed to cadet attrition; self-defense training will take its place
  • Vetting all training videos after some were found to perpetuate racist and sexist stereotypes
  • The recent hiring of two new staffers to devise a better curriculum for the academy and instruct cadets, including one with the “proper authority and rank” to command cadets’ full respect
  • Eliminating discrepancies between academy training and subsequent field training
  • Hiring diverse adjunct instructors as a stopgap measure to improve instructor diversity

With these reforms, Council signaled that next cadet class will likely start sometime this spring. “I believe I made a commitment to the community not to do the classes until we thought we could do them right,” Mayor Steve Adler said. “I appreciate the review that’s gone on here. I appreciate all those steps.”

Council canceled three future cadet classes last August when it cut $20 million from APD as part of its Reimagining Public Safety initiative.

City Manager Spencer Cronk said he could bring a budget amendment to restart the academy as early as Council’s next meeting on March 26, but some Council members wanted more time to mull the changes or suggest other fixes.

“This is a beautiful opportunity for Austin to be the template for the rest of the country, for us to get it right,” said Mayor Pro Tem Natasha Harper-Madison.

“I, for one,” Adler said, “would like to have a class sooner than later, but only to the degree that it would be materially different.”

Manley said once Council gives the go-ahead, a new cadet class could begin within 4-6 weeks.

The revamped program will be something of a “test class,” Adler said. The city plans to watch the class closely to see which changes work and which don’t. An independent review of the class will guide future changes.

The report that guided the current changes – the final version of which will be released in April – is only the beginning of a full review of the police department. Kroll plans to present another report in September that addresses recruiting practices.

Two future reports still need Council approval: The third proposed report would analyze how systemic racism affects the department’s policing and internal work. The fourth would track discriminatory attitudes and statements among officers, including their social media posts.

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