A new report shows that racial profiling continues to be a problem for the Austin Police Department, despite ongoing efforts to address disparities in stops, searches and arrests.
APD motor vehicle stop data from 2019 reveals that Black people are still the most overrepresented racial or ethnic group being stopped by police in Austin.
According to the report, which was jointly published by the city's office of police oversight, office of innovation and equity office on Monday, Black people make up 8% of Austin's voting age population but experienced 14% of motor vehicle stops, 25% of stops resulting in searchers and 25% of stops resulting in arrests.
Latino residents were also overrepresented in motor vehicle stops, searches and arrests compared to their share of the local population, while Asian and white residents were underrepresented.
"APD's data continues to show that disproportionality in traffic stops exists and adversely impacts Black and Brown community members," OPO Director Farah Muscadin said in a statement.
The data also revealed geographic disparities in warnings, field observations and arrests. Warnings and field observations were most concentrated on the west side of Austin, while arrests were most concentrated on the east side.
Although there were some modest improvements since 2018, including a 1% decline in the overrepresentation of Black people in motor vehicle stops, other gaps widened.
For example, Black people were three times more likely to be searched than white people and the only racial or ethnic groups to receive more high-discretion searches than low-discretion searches.
High-discretion searches can only be conducted when there is consent, probable cause or contraband present, according to the report. Low-discretion searches, on the other hand, occur when policy requires an officer to conduct a search, such as due to an arrest or a vehicle being towed.
Last year, Black people received 58% of high-discretion searches compared to 42% of low-discretion searches. This disparity grew nearly 8% since 2018.
APD Chief Brian Manley said that his department is working toward reducing these disparities.
"Although it is a slight improvement, there is an improvement in some areas," he said at a public safety committee meeting on Monday. "I think we're headed in the right direction."
The report also included recommendations for how APD can ensure equity in policing.
Chief Equity Officer Brion Oaks said the department needs to acknowledge that their efforts to eliminate racial disparities have not worked, engage the community in creating a plan to do better, commit to achieving the benchmarks set out in that plan and improve how it trains officers.
"This report has established firmly how systemic racism manifests itself in policing and I hope it will serve as a catalyst for our community and city leaders to respond courageously in the pursuit of the fair administration of justice for our city," Oaks said in a statement.
The report analyzes data from 2019, before this year's protests against police violence and racism, and its publication follows myriad efforts to reform police.
Last December, after an anonymous complaint was filed with the OPO accusing an assistant police chief of using racist epithets and derogatory language, Austin City Council ordered a third-party investigation of APD's training, recruiting and promotion practices; use of force incident reports; and interactions with the public, including searches, arrests and citations.
More recently, council voted in August to cut approximately $20 million—or about 5%—of APD's budget and set aside an additional $130 million into two transitional funds, which allowed several of APD's traditional duties to continue while officials decide which ones to move out from under police oversight.
Members also canceled three planned cadet classes, citing concerns about the training academy's curriculum.
Manley said the budget cuts and canceled cadet classes have led to staffing shortages at the Monday meeting.
APD currently has 1,809 sworn officers and 45 vacancies. In the last couple of months, its attrition rate has spiked to 15%, about double what the department typically sees from retirements, resignations and terminations, he said.
Without any upcoming cadet classes, and assuming this attrition rate continues at its current level, Manley predicts the department will see an increasing number of vacancies—and related challenges staffing its patrol positions.
"We're doing what we can with what we have," he said.
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A $500 million mixed-use development spanning 1,400 acres is coming to Southeast Austin, near Tesla’s headquarters at Giga Texas.
Plans for the development by Houston-based real estate firm Hines include 2,500 houses along with multi-family and townhomes, and commercial land. Hines is partnering with Trez Capital, Sumitomo Forestry and Texas-based Caravel Ventures.
The development, which is known as Mirador, will be located off the 130 Toll and Highway 71, which the developers say provides easy access to the Circuit of the Americas Formula 1 racetrack and other Austin attractions like restaurants, parks and live music venues.
Hines also boasts amenities like a 60-acre lake, over 600 acres of greenbelt, community parks, trails and a swimming pool.
“As Austin continues to grow into the tech epicenter of Texas, coupled with a supply-constrained market, the demand for new housing is at its highest,” Dustin Davidson, managing director at Hines, said. “Mirador will be critical in providing more options for Austin’s growing population and we are excited to work alongside our partners given they each provide a unique and valued perspective in single-family development.”
The local housing market has been hot in recent years, with home sales accelerating earlier in the pandemic. In July 2021, the Austin metro area hit its pricing peak at $478,000. As Austonia previously reported, the area has been expected to see the Tesla effect, with the new workforce driving up demand for housing and other services.
The single-family houses are expected to be developed over the course of six years, in phases. Construction on the homes is expected to start this year and home sales will begin in 2023.
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Editor's note: This story summarizes Sports Illustrated's story detailing Michael Center's involvement in the Varsity Blues college admissions scandal, based on interviews with SI's Jon Wertheim. Additionally, Austonia received comments from Michael Center, included in this story.
Confined to his couch, former Longhorns tennis coach Michael Center praised his players via FaceTime after the program he built produced the Longhorns’ first national championship in 2019—a bittersweet moment as Center faced federal charges as part of the Varsity Blues college admissions scandal.
His name dragged through the mud, Center was fired, arrested by the FBI and sentenced to six months in a Central Texas federal prison after pleading guilty to two charges related to mail fraud. And over a year after his release, Center told Sports Illustrated he doubts he was the only one in burnt orange involved.
When the Varsity Blues scandal broke out to the public in 2019, the investigation was a perfect storm for nationwide attention: Hollywood glamour, blue blood conspiracy and faith in the tried-and-true American education system came to a head as 33 movie stars and other elites were found guilty of paying more than $25 million to pave their children’s way into eight colleges, including the University of Texas.
UT was one of eight schools caught in the college admissions scandal. (Laura Figi/Austonia)
The figure behind Varsity Blues, “college consultant” Rick Singer, would plead guilty to four felony counts for faking SAT scores and bribing coaches at prominent universities for his elite clients—but not before throwing Center under the bus.
Singer's client, private equity executive Chris Schaepe, was looking for a way to bend UT's tight admissions policies for his son, who was seeking a position oddly as a manager on UT’s basketball team. Through a middleman, Singer contacted Center, who eventually agreed.
Schaepe's son hadn't played tennis since his freshman year of high school. It was a detail that Center says passed through plenty of hands before he was admitted, including "academic support staff, the compliance office, the sports supervisor and, ultimately, the athletic director," SI's Jon Wertheim writes.
No one in the entire athletic department, including seven "risk management and compliant services department" employees, was named, implicated or punished. After an internal investigation, Center was the only one named in the Varsity Blues "subterfuge" in a September 2019 UT news release signed by the university president.
He told Austonia he was never contacted by the university during the investigation, and when the NCAA interviewed him for its investigation, he says it cleared him of any violations.
“I almost fell out of my chair,” Center said. “I literally couldn’t breathe. There’s no college coach in America—much less at a state school, much less a coach of a nonrevenue sport—who can admit an athlete without consulting other people in the athletic department. What they were asking people to believe, it’s just impossible.” SI said Center's assertion was backed by multiple UT coaches and administrators at other schools.But why would the Forty Acres be complicit?
Center said UT’s then newly named athletic director Steve Patterson made clear that Center suddenly was responsible for more than building a successful tennis program. He was to be a "fundraiser first and coach second" and he would need to find donors to fund a new tennis facility. Patterson admitted to SI that he wanted his coaches to find donors and said the department was "$15 million in the red" when he started in 2013, though he denies any knowledge of the false tennis recruitment.
Center said he knew he would be "considered a team player" if he let in the son of a Silicon Valley magnate. And sure enough, Schaepe immediately began pulling out his wallet, donating $100,000 to UT tennis and a six-figure check to the school's communication program.
"I never entered this as a way to profit. This was a fundraising mission where I made a terrible mistake at the end,"
Months after Schaepe's son was admitted, Center agreed to meet Singer at the Austin airport and found himself accepting a backpack filled with $60,000 in cash meant for him, personally. He said he immediately knew he had made a mistake. He told SI “I put the money in my basement and gave most of it away.”
“Why did I do it?” Center told Sports Illustrated. "I go to bed and wake up each day asking myself the same question. I had to convince myself that I somehow deserved the money."
Once in court, Center showed texts with UT's compliance official and mentioned Chris Plonsky, a department executive involved in "overseeing men’s tennis, compliance, academic support (which generates letters of intent) and the Longhorn Foundation," according to SI.
“I knew I had to answer for my guilt,” Center said. “But I was like, 'Man, schools are going to get hammered.'"'
INMATE 77806-112 but out on Sunday: Actor Felicity Huffman in prison uniform outside low-security Federal Correctional Institution in Dublin to visit actor husband William H. Macy & their daughter. Huffman admitted to paying $15K to have fixer boost daughter’s SAT score. 📸: @TMZ pic.twitter.com/9jALmqnA0U
— Henry K. Lee (@henrykleeKTVU) October 21, 2019
But Center was the only Longhorn to go down for the crimes. “I was no rogue actor,” Center said. “And this wasn’t my word against their word. There were signatures that went along with it. That’s the system... There wasn’t one point in the process where I thought people wanted to learn the whole truth.”
Back at home in Austin, Center watched as actress Felicity Huffman served just eleven days for her part in the scandal. Some served up to five months; others simply paid a fine, and others, like Singer, await sentencing.
And because the prosecution chose to blame individual coaches, framing schools as victims in the case, universities like UT have received less than a slap on the wrist for their possible involvement.
“I was always taught that actions have consequences,” Center said. “What I’ve come to realize is that, yes, for some people actions absolutely do have consequences. Serious, heavy ones. For others, actions can have no consequences at all.”
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