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APD making headway toward academy reforms, but still a work in progress

Wednesday, May 25, 2022 by Jonathan Lee

The Austin Police Department is well on its way toward implementing recommended changes to its training academy, according to a presentation Monday from consulting firm Kroll Associates.

APD has enacted nearly all of the short-term recommendations and just under half of the long-term recommendations outlined in Kroll’s April 2021 report on the academy’s teaching methods, culture and staff diversity. 

“Our job really was to independently verify APD’s implementation of the full recommendations and to assess how effectively the academy considers racial and gender equity, emphasizes de-escalation, incorporates community perspectives, and trains resilient officers through adult learning instruction,” Mark Ehlers, a consultant with Kroll, told the City Council Public Safety Committee. A presentation from the meeting shows the full list of complete and incomplete recommendations. 

Of the 10 short-term recommendations, eight have been completed. Hiring outside subject-matter experts such as professors is one change that has lagged. “There has been some reluctance on the part of staff to buy into that concept,” Ehlers said, adding that, while APD has hired civilian teachers, it needs to hire more. Mentorship programs are also not fully developed. 

APD has fully implemented four out of nine long-term recommendations. The recommendations yet to be completed include increasing the diversity of academy staff, developing additional content on procedural justice, and researching effective peer intervention programs and training on decision-making and emotional intelligence.

“One area is a work in progress that’s actually probably gone a little bit backwards is the increased diversity of academy staff,” Ehlers said, adding, “There’s been a lot of turnover since the 144th (cadet class).”

Ehlers said APD is working on integrating the remaining changes into the academy as the 145th cadet class, which started in March, goes through training.  

Reforming the training academy was a primary goal of City Council’s Reimagining Public Safety initiative, a response to the police murder of George Floyd and a national reckoning on police violence and racism. Last summer, City Council OK’d a “reimagined” pilot cadet academy – the first since Floyd’s killing. This 144th cadet class graduated in January. 

Though many aspects of the academy have been different for the past two cadet classes, some things still remained the same, Ehlers said, including a “military-style culture.” Ehlers also said cadets reported in a survey that some academy staff had “mocked the reimagining policing concept and some of the community engagement aspects of the academy.”

“It’s not so much that there’s any strong resistance to (the changes), but … that there’s still some work to be done for some of the rank-and-file staff members to really buy into change,” Ehlers said. “Change is difficult.”

Council Member Natasha Harper-Madison spoke to the disconnect between Council priorities and APD culture. “There’s not some bogeyman at City Hall who’s trying to inhibit your ability to do your job well. There’s people at City Hall who have to create policies and respond when the citizens, the residents of the city of Austin, ask us questions about how the service is being provided,” Harper-Madison said. “I’d like very much for us to have more clear, open, authentic conversation and relationships between the entities.”

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