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Chacon pledges more diverse police force

Tuesday, April 5, 2022 by Jo Clifton

Austin Police Chief Joseph Chacon told members of the Public Safety Commission Monday that his department has signed the 30 by 30 pledge, a national initiative that agrees to diversify the police force by 2030. APD is one of 40 law enforcement agencies that have signed the pledge.

Overall, Chacon said, just 11 percent of current APD officers are female, but the department is working hard to recruit women as well as Hispanic, Black and other minority officers. The latest APD cadet class is 17 percent female. Overall, he said, Black cadets make up 10 percent of the cadet class, which is greater than their representation in the community, which is just 8 percent.

Recruiting more diverse cadet classes was one of the recommendations from the Kroll report, an independent review of the department completed by consulting firm Kroll Associates.

Later in the meeting, Commissioner Rebecca Bernhardt presented figures showing an increase in Hispanic representation among police officers from 20 to 25 percent over the past eight years. Hispanic employees within the Emergency Medical Services department grew about 4 percent over the same period of time, and Hispanic firefighters now make up 20 percent of AFD, which is up from 16 percent in 2014, she said.

She noted that even though the changes seem small, they represent progress.

Chacon said he would like to retain a consultant to help reconfigure the department’s physical fitness requirements so that those requirements do not have what he called “a disparate impact on women and persons of color.”

Chacon also talked about a number of policy recommendations the department has implemented regarding use of force. Language has been added to department regulations to clarify that “protection of life is the primary core value,” he said, adding that discharging a firearm should be a last resort after other alternatives have failed.

He said the policy about shooting at moving vehicles has been changed to reflect the fact that shooting at a vehicle is unlikely to stop its movement. And officers are now instructed to use a chokehold only when deadly force has been authorized. In addition, the language regarding what to do when one officer sees another officer using unreasonable force has been changed. There is now a directive telling officers that they have a duty to intervene if another officer is using unreasonable force (the previous language said a duty to intercede). He said that duty applies regardless of the rank of the officers involved.

Twenty cases regarding use of force were highlighted in the Kroll report. The department has considered all of those and determined that the officers’ actions were reasonable, Chacon said. However, the department has taken use-of-force reviews out of the hands of those supervising the officers being investigated. Instead, a panel that includes a member of the city’s legal team and a member of the Office of Police Oversight as well as trained police investigators looks at such cases.

Chacon said when the cases were being reviewed by officers in the chain of command the results were inconsistent.

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