The 144th police cadet class kicked off Monday, with 100 members and a reimagined curriculum after Austin City Council raised concerns about the training academy's paramilitary culture and high attrition rates. It's also the most diverse class ever.
"That is what we were striving for," Interim Police Chief Joseph Chacon said during a press conference Wednesday. "We were actively recruiting minorities because we need for our department to reflect the community that it serves."
So does this class reflect Austin's population? Here's how it stacks up across race, ethnic and gender lines.
Today we welcome our 144th @Austin_Police Academy, which is the most diverse class in APD history. This class will be the shining example of training in line with community expectations. Can't wait to get these eager young men and women out on the streets to serve our citizens! pic.twitter.com/qqCP3O89At
— Joseph Chacon 👮🏻♂️ (@Chief_Chacon) June 7, 2021
This police cadet class is majority-minority, with 57% identifying as non-white. The city of Austin is also majority-minority, with 48.3% of its population identifying as white (non-Hispanic), according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
Thirty-eight percent of the cadets are Hispanic, which outpaces the share of Hispanic or Latino residents which is around one-third, and 17% are African American, more than double the share of Black of African-American residents, who make up 7.8% of the city population.
Eighteen percent of the cadets are women. This is a higher share than is typical, said Sergeant Kevin De La Rue, who oversees recruiting, but far short of the overall population. Women make up 49.2% of city residents.
The pilot class will graduate in January, and Chacon is hopeful each member will make it through the end given the department's staffing challenges. "I can't graduate these cadets soon enough," he said.
The training academy has come under fire in recent years for its "fear-based approach to training, discriminatory recruiting practices and attrition rates. After thousands of Austinites marched in protest of police violence last summer, City Manager Spencer Cronk delayed the July 2020 cadet class. Council then voted unanimously in August to cancel funding for three planned cadet classes. With a new curriculum and community oversight measures in place, members approved the pilot class last month.
Council will receive periodic updates on the pilot class and determine whether a second cadet class can proceed early next year. Chacon, who is among the applicants for the department's permanent chief position, is hopeful. "I feel like we are going to have a better police officer that is going to graduate than we've ever had before," he said.
Jodean Dixon, 21, is one of the cadets in this pilot class. (Emma Freer/Austonia)
Jodean Dixon, 21, is among the cadets. Born and raised in Jamaica, she moved to West Palm Beach, Florida, when she was 13. She was drawn to APD because of its community policing programs—such as Operation Blue Santa, which provides toys for children in need, and Coffee with a Cop—and the ongoing reimagine effort. "It shows that there is a future in changing the world's perception of what policing is," she told Austoniia. "We want to make a difference, the new cadet class."
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Republic Square Park has turned into a Ford-themed fiesta for its Built to Connect pop-up experience, complete with test drives, off-roading and an inside look at the Tesla-rivaling electric vehicles that the motor vehicle company is planning to integrate over the next decade.
The outdoor driving event is free, open to the public and will stay in the park from now until Oct. 24, offering rides on Bronco Mountain, a 0-40 mph zip in the 2022 all-electric Ford F-150 Lightning and a chance to win an original Ford Bronco.
The event kicked off with a panel of speakers, including Austin Director of Transportation Rob Spillar, Ford General Manager Darren Palmer and engineering specialists discussing Ford's goals to make it so that 50% of the vehicles on the road are electric by 2030.
As an eco-conscious city, Spillar said that around 4,000 vehicles, or 22% of the Texas electric vehicle market, as well as over 15,000 plugins lie in Austin, meaning driving electric just got accessible.
"Austin, as you know, is a fast-growing modern city that is committed to protecting the long term health and viability of our communities and strategies that reduce greenhouse gases, mitigate the effects of climate change and improve the drone quality of life here in Central Texas for all of our residents," Spillar said.
And Ford's electric vehicles are putting up some steep competition for newly-Austin-based company Tesla. The new electric Mustang Mach-E and F-150 Lighting offer amenities that used to be exclusive to Musk's brand, such as the BlueCruise self-driving network. The cars also boast a 300-mile range on a single charge, assisted reverse technology and access to the biggest charging network outside of the home.
Plus, Ford's got affordability on its side. The F-150 Lightning starts at $39,974 and the Mustang Mach-E starts at $42,895, while the cheapest Tesla model, the Model 3, starts at $41,990 and averages 262 miles on a single charge.
Speaking of price, the numbers on the electric vehicles may look like a little more than you'd like to pay for your transport, but Palmer promises it will pay off. In addition to a $7,500 tax credit you can earn for your sustainability, you'll never have to buy a pricey tank of gas again.
"Personally, I have not found one customer ever, who would go back to gas so that says something," Palmer said. "I realized, at $51,000, that car outruns every childhood hero car I ever had."
Texas buyers: take note. The Ford Lightning can power your house for three to 10 days, just in case the statewide power grid fails. You can take it glamping with you, so you don't have to leave the comfort of modern life behind, and in a pinch, Palmer said he's even seen a wedding party powered by the truck.
Ford is investing $30 billion into the U.S. market to meet demand by 2025 and the new electric truck already has over 150,000 reservations.
"I think they're going to take off much faster than you expect—they're going to be extremely, extremely popular next year," Palmer said. "With the incentives that are available today, this is starting to become more mainstream and viable for more and more families. We couldn't have done that before, we didn't have the technology, or the technology at that price."
The event is ongoing through next weekend from 12-9 p.m. Monday-Friday and 9 a.m.- 8 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.
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The Austin Police Department is searching for a man who is believed to be behind a series of robberies that is "sexual in nature and is escalating."
Three robbery cases that took place in North Austin within a 30-day period are being investigated by police, who report the victims all had similar descriptions for suspects in the case. The suspect is described as a 20-25-year-old Spanish-speaking Hispanic man, approximately 5'3, thin build, recently shaved with black hair. Police say he is known to typically wear athletic clothing and used a knife on each of the victims.
Here's a breakdown of the cases:
1. At 7:56 a.m. on Sept. 22 at the 1600 block of Rutland Drive, a woman was walking alone and returning from her child's school when a suspect walking by inappropriately touched her. The suspect then grabbed her by the arm, threatened her with a knife and demanded "her property."
2. At 8:10 a.m. on Oct. 11 at 1700 block of Colony Creek Drive, a woman was walking to her child's school when a man approached her with a knife and then demanded her personal items. The suspect then said he would return the items in return for sex.
3. At 11:03 a.m. on Oct. 13 at the 9300 block of Northgate Boulevard, a woman was with her child in the laundry room of an apartment complex when a man walked in performing a sexual act. The suspect demanded personal items from the victim, threatening to hurt the victim and take her child.
Police cautioned the public to walk without earbuds, stay alert and report suspicious activity to the police.
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