Drew Daniels, 23, has checked the Austin Police Department website every day since last October in search of a job opening. The training academy has been on hiatus for nearly a year due to concerns about its curriculum and training methods. A pilot class is set to start June 7, but Daniels didn't have time to relocate to Austin on such short notice. "Now I have to wait again," he told Austonia.
Despite what the International Association of Chiefs of Police calls a crisis of recruiting and the public reckoning prompted by George Floyd's murder last May, local criminal justice professors say student interest in policing remains steady. In fact, recent events may have strengthened interest among prospective police officers, who see themselves as a force for good.
"I don't think George Floyd is going to cause people... to change their minds about being police officers," said Charles Scheer, director of the Mississippi Statistical Analysis Center at the University of Southern Mississippi, where he has studied student interest in policing.
'Eyes wide open'
Daniels, a former college football player who is completing his degree, has wanted to be a police officer since high school. The murder of George Floyd and the mass protests that followed reaffirmed his commitment. "Around that time in March (2020), with the pandemic and everything and all of the things that followed with the riots… I figured there needs to be someone like me in policing right now, one that's not going to make bad decisions," he said.
Drew Daniels, 23, lives in Reno but hopes to enroll in the APD training academy. He recently visited Austin. (Drew Daniels)
Lorraine Samuels, an assistant professor of criminal justice at Huston-Tillotson University, has noticed a similar trend among her students who plan to become police officers. Although they may worry about being viewed as bad apples or face pushback from family members concerned about police killings of people of color, they rarely reconsider. She cited one of her spring semester students, a young Black man who recently interned with the Bee Cave Police Department. "He thinks it's going to be very important for others in the community to see him behind that budget, someone who looks like them," she said.
Frederick Toler is a 25-year veteran of APD and interim director of Austin Community College's Public Safety Training Center, which offers training for those interested in becoming a licensed peace officer. Although pandemic restrictions have limited the number of students the center can enroll each semester, demand remains strong. "They're all… going into this profession with their eyes wide open," he said.
The cop crunch
APD has suffered a years-long staffing shortage, and public safety advocates argue that the city's effort to "reimagine public safety" has exacerbated attrition. But the so-called cop crunch has been an issue for years and reflects a combination of factors, including the retirement of Baby Boomer officers and the long-term impact of budget cuts arising from the Great Recession, Scheer said.
There is also a generational challenge. Police departments need to meet potential millennial and Gen Z recruits where they are—on social media—and respond to their desire for increased transparency around the application process. "You can't just put a stack of applications on the table and wait for everyone to show up," Scheer said.
Daniels follows APD on all of its social media channels and is eagerly waiting for APD to announce a second cadet class, which will require City Council approval and hinges on the success of the pilot. If they do, he and his girlfriend plan to relocate to Austin. The couple recently visited. In addition to paddleboarding on Lake Bird Lake and visiting Mozart's Coffee, they also walked along Dirty Sixth, where he spotted many APD officers. "I'd love to patrol this area," he said. "Be in this spot and arrest a bunch of drunk kids who are out of control."
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East Austin restaurant la Barbecue has been robbed a third time in less than three months, according to a post on the restaurant's Instagram.
In the post, the restaurant included photos of what appeared to be a man exiting a minivan from surveillance footage.
"This guy pulled up in a car full of stuff… he ripped our gate open and stole a couple empty kegs," the post said. "The ring system scared him off so he did not venture back into the area. PLEASE EVERYONE ON THE EAST SIDE BE CAREFUL!!! This guy goes back into his car to grab something before he goes in. I am hoping he won’t be back!!"
The robbery comes as many restaurant and food truck owners have been on guard from recent break-ins. East Austin cheesesteak truck R&B's Steak and Fries has also been robbed three times in around three months, according to owner Kris Elliott. Elliot said the truck was last robbed around a month and a half ago.
"When the weather gets cold, it seems like these things start to happen more often," Elliott said. "We're just happy no one got hurt."
Additionally, he said all 5 of the food trucks in their lot have experienced burglaries. The landlord of the space is taking action by investing in alarm and camera systems. "Been very tough dealing with this problem as us small business owners are just trying to survive during the pandemic," Elliott said.
And it's not just in East Austin. North Austin restaurants Eldorado Cafe and Chez Zee Bistro were both broken into and robbed on the weekend of Jan. 8, while over a dozen food truck robberies and break-ins were reported in the latter half of 2021.
Some, like Chez Zee's Deborah Velasco, wonder if the understaffed Austin Police Department's decision to no longer respond to non-emergency calls is part of the problem. Xose Velasco, owner of East Austin's Discada, said owners are keeping their guard up in the wake of the robberies as he was robbed twice within a month of reopening in November 2021.
"We try to keep the lights on," Velasco said. "We're a little bit more careful."
After 12 months, the long-anticipated massive Tesla factory in Southeast Travis County is up and operating and everyone wants a look inside.
Phase 1 of Giga Texas appears to be tied up as production of the Model Y Tesla is underway, the electric car company revealed on Wednesday in its fourth-quarter earnings call. The factory, located on the former Harold Green-turned Tesla Road, sits on more than 2,000 acres of land in southeast Travis County.
Here's a glimpse inside the factory.
Model Ys will be the first Teslas to come out of Giga Texas with an estimated delivery of August. The wait estimate comes after Tesla noted supply chain issues have affected their factories, which have been running below capacity for several quarters. A deep blue metallic like this goes for $1,000 more than a white or silver Model Y, totaling $61,990.
Model Ys began being produced at Giga Texas at the end of 2020. In general assembly at the factory, the Teslas get their major interior components to finish the vehicle.
Workers at Austin's Gigafactory are attaching seats to a structural battery pack. It's been described by some as the biggest difference between Texas-made Model Y's and the current version at the Fremont, California factory. It shouldn't have a major impact on the owner's experience, but Tesla has updated instructions for the jacking procedure, as the lift points are different.
With a sleek, open office setup, workers can take in a view of the factory from their seats. It's a component CEO Elon Musk wanted for what is now the headquarters of Tesla.
On the Austin, Texas public location Snapchat, a photo of inside Giga Texas has appeared. On the left you can see a sneak peek of a Model Y body.pic.twitter.com/N7zliZ5vkL— Sawyer Merritt (@Sawyer Merritt) 1643081462
With Snapchat's maps, anyone can look at everyday activity happening at the factory. To view these geographically-linked stories, click the bottom left "map" icon and search "Tesla Giga Texas." Once you've found it, you can view the Snapchat story of those in and around the facility. While most stories stay up for only 24 hours, Giga Texas is a designated place on Snapchat, allowing users to view a collection of photos and videos from the inside.
Following Model Ys, Texas-made Teslas will include the Cybertruck, Semi and Model 3. But it might be a while before those other models arrive. EV makers have been hit hard by the chip shortage, and it's thought that changing features are contributing to Cybertruck delays as Tesla works to compete in the electric pickup market.
Joe Rogan paid a visit to buddy Elon Musk this week. The two have been seen around town since both moving to Texas. Naturally, Rogan was impressed with the prototype.
If you're dying to get a closer look at this factory, you just might get to. In December, Musk said the factory would have tours available to the community early this year.
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