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huston tillotson protest

Austinites protested police violence and racial injustice last June 7. Some called for defunding. (Emma Freer/Austonia)

Austin City Council voted 8-1 to restart the police cadet training academy on a pilot basis by June 7, one year to the day that thousands of residents marched from Huston-Tillotson University to the Texas Capitol in protest of police brutality and racial injustice, pending certain conditions are met.

Council Member Greg Casar voted against. Mayor Pro Tem Natasha Harper-Madison and Council Member Vanessa Fuentes abstained. Council will vote on whether to fund the class at a later date.

"This is a major undertaking," Council Member Alison Alter said at the meeting Thursday evening, adding that it was a "leap of faith" given the concerns that led to the academy being suspended.

City Manager Spencer Cronk delayed the July 2020 cadet class in response to mass protests against police brutality and racial injustice. Council then voted unanimously in August to cancel funding for three planned cadet classes as part of a broader set of reforms aimed at "reimagining" public safety. The academy has also come under fire in recent years for its "fear-based" approach to training, discriminatory recruiting practices and attrition rates.

The academy will resume on a pilot basis on the condition that certain concerns about its curriculum and training techniques are addressed and recommendations from a series of independent reviews are heeded, including appointing an academy review committee, increasing the diversity of instructors and adding a history of race and policing course requirement. Office of Police Oversight Director Farah Muscadin will oversee this process.

Casar and Alter successfully amended the resolution to ensure these conditions will be met before the class begins—what Casar called a "belt and suspenders."

Dozens of Ausinites spoke in response to the resolution, with the vast majority opposed. Many recited the names of people of color killed by APD in the last four years.

Representatives from local activist groups Austin Justice Coalition and Grassroots Leadership and members of the city's task force to reimagine public safety said the decision to reopen the academy was rushed and broke the council's promise to include the community in this process. "APD is not ready," Go Austin / Vamos Austin Policy Director Monica Guzmán said. "Our trust in the process has been violated."

Harper-Madison said she was struggling with the item, given the concerns from residents and the myriad reports detailing racism and bigotry at the academy. "This is not the final decision to resume cadet classes," she said, referring to the amendments that require certain requirements be met before June 7. "I'm in lockstep with the community here."

The suspension of the training academy has exacerbated a staffing shortage at APD. Some council members also argued that the academy can't be improved without a pilot program to assess which changes are working and which need further review.

"These cadets can and must be the cultural change agents in our police force," Mayor Steve Adler said. "And we also need cadets and police officers."


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