Austin City Council approved a contract of up to $1.3 million with Kroll Associates, a New York-based consulting firm that has been hired to investigate the Austin Police Department.
Council directed the city manager to hire an independent investigator to evaluate APD last December. The contractor selection process took nearly a year, during which time police violence became even more of a pressing issue in Austin.
Now, with this contract in effect, Kroll will be tasked with investigating APD's training, recruitment and promotion practices; use of force incident reports; and interactions with the public, including searches, arrests and citations.
The audit was prompted by an anonymous complaint filed with the city's Office of Police Oversight, which accused an assistant police chief of using racist epithets and derogatory terms when referring to Black elected officials and colleagues.
Council also cited other reasons for an investigation, including:
- A third-party investigation that found APD leadership knew of the assistant chief's use of racial slurs and epithets, which had occurred over a period of many years
- Data that Black people continue to be disproportionately arrested by APD for offenses that are eligible for a citation
- A nearly 40% drop-out rate for the department's 140th cadet class, which graduated in May 2019
"Pervasive, systemic racism is not an Austin-exclusive problem," District 1 Council Member Natasha Harper-Madison said Dec. 5, 2019. "Everybody's got a little bit of this illness, and it's time for us to apply a massive dose of treatment to our entire country. And so I say, 'Why not start in the capital city in the great state of Texas?'"
Following the May 25 death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police officers, protests broke out across the country, including in Austin.
When protesters gathered outside the APD's downtown headquarters and shut down I-35 in late May, APD officers used tear gas and so-called "less lethal" bullets, which left a 16-year-old and Texas State student in the hospital with critical head injuries and a pregnant woman injured.
The incidents prompted Austinites to demand the resignation of APD Chief Brian Manley and called on Austin City Council to defund the police department, moving funds toward other services, such as mental health response.
In August, council voted 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 work out which ones to move out from under police oversight.
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If the idea of the metaverse makes you feel more scared than excited, you’re not alone.
In a recent poll on the metaverse, a third of respondents leaned toward feeling more scared about it. It’s a response fitting for a tool that’s in its infancy stages, where it’s not uncommon for some to find it elusive or irrelevant, or require a virtual reality headset.
Amber Allen, founder of metaverse company Double A, has noticed these concerns. Now with the Austin-based company, she’s working on advancements in the metaverse, which may see progress in business use before it becomes mainstream in the general public. But getting to that point involves demystifying misconceptions over it, like that we’ll all put a headset on and avoid real life.
“A lot of people are talking about the metaverse and like what it could be in 10 or 30 years. And they're not talking a lot about what it is right now. And I think that's what scares people and confuses them,” Allen told Austonia. “I'm just very passionate about what is the metaverse now. It's the next wave of the internet. No, you don't need to wear a VR headset.”
She broke this down last week in Forbes, writing about what is hype versus what’s actually happening with this phase of the internet.
Allen sees how eventually, the metaverse could become a part of how we play and interact. But before the Metaverse extends to the average consumer, many predict that it will be popular in business first.
It’s why some think Microsoft may have an edge over Facebook turned Meta in the industry. And why Allen has designed for work that’s 3D, interactive and business to business, garnering interest from companies like General Mills, Dell and Chanel.
She points to how many workers now prefer a hybrid work environment, but says the business tools are not there right now. It’s not just within the workplace, however. Double A also offers tools for boosting sales and generating brand engagement through activities like watch parties and meet and greets.
With companies like Allen’s, corporate metaverse use could see wider adoption. Double A has hired 13 people this year, adding to the ranks of nearly 30 employees plus dozens of contractors. Some are remote workers outside of Texas while others use the office in East Austin with graffiti art that includes popular gaming figures like Zelda and the Mario Brothers.
Allen takes great pride in working in her home state, saying that she’d like to be a great ambassador for Austin. She said she wants people new to the city to feel welcome. She has meet ups from time to time so that new people who have moved in can get face time with others who have been in Austin for a while.
Still, her work is bound to extend outside of Austin as she aims to create products that will have global reach.
“I want to change the world,” Allen said. “You got to think localized. If I'm creating something, how does this work for Europe? How would this work for Asia? How can they build on things?”
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The record-breaking heat seen last week is officially coming to a halt as some much-needed rain is expected in Austin from Monday through Wednesday.
The National Weather Service has issued a Hazardous Weather Outlook for Central Texas as thunderstorms headed this way could be strong to severe.
Thunderstorms are forecast to begin in the west around 6 p.m. Monday, bringing about a half-inch of rain through the night. Then Tuesday, thunderstorms will likely begin after 1 p.m. lasting through the night. Temperatures on Monday and Tuesday will be in the mid-80s before dropping to the mid-70s on Wednesday. Wednesday will also bring rain and thunderstorms in the morning before clearing out.
Rainfall chances will increase today beginning in the west before spreading east. Rain chances remain elevated through tonight and then again tomorrow and tomorrow night. Strong to severe storms and locally heavy rain will be possible from the stronger activity. pic.twitter.com/f8OpN50dkX
— NWS Austin/San Antonio (@NWSSanAntonio) May 23, 2022
The rain comes after a dry spring that has pushed drought conditions from moderate to severe, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor. Lake Travis has dropped to its lowest level in almost 4 years as a result.