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Two new reports detail racial inequities at the Austin Police Department and raise concerns about the department's "paramilitary" approach to training cadets, including allegations of hazing.

The reports were conducted by separate independent consultant groups with guidance from the city's equity office and built on findings of past investigations into allegations of racism within the department, such as the Tatum report, and misconduct at the training academy, which has come under fire in recent years for its "fear-based" approach, discriminatory recruiting practices and attrition rates.

The reports

The Peace Mill report evaluated the department for equity and found "significant racial and gender disparities" in the standards and practices of APD's training and recruiting divisions. These include:

  • Only one Black employee out of the division's 57 employees
  • Black male cadets graduated from the training academy at a rate of 48.5%, compared to 81.6% for white male cadets
  • Black cadets were also more likely to leave the academy or sustain an injury than any other racial group
  • Academy culture "prioritizes physical aggressive above all else"
  • Cadets reported that training staff "refused water to dehydrated cadets," told cadets to target homeless individuals for various citations when "'having a slow day'" and employed training tactics "described … as 'worse than anything I went through in (US military training])"

Peace Mill, which is led by public policy researcher and LBJ School of Public Affairs graduate student Raymon Weyandt, recommended that the city suspend all future cadet classes until APD's training division can be reformed and rebuilt.

The academy is currently on hold after Austin City Council voted unanimously to cancel funding for three planned cadet classes in August as part of a broader set of police reforms enacted in response to mass protests in support of the Black Lives Matter movement. Council members cited concerns about the training academy's curriculum, among other factors.

Last month, however, Austin Mayor Steve Adler expressed hope that certain reforms could be implemented in time for a future cadet class in the short term. "I still think there's a critical role for police in our community, even reimagined," he said during a Dec. 9 work session. "I, for one, would like the process to move quickly so as to allow for a cadet class in a spring."

The second report, by Round Rock-based group Joyce James Consulting, identified:

  • A last of trust in APD leadership to handle issues related to race, gender and sexual orientation
  • Widening racial disparities in stops, citations, arrests, searches and use-of-force incidents
  • A "paramilitary format" at the police academy and weaknesses in its "structure, culture, curriculum, and teaching effectiveness"

"There have been so many studies already done that we felt it would be important for us to do a comprehensive review of all of those reports," President and CEO Joyce James told the city's public safety commission Monday. "What we found in those reports, they all pretty much have the same theme.

The response

APD responded to the reports in a statement shared with Austonia, which read in part: "We strive to be an organization that promotes diversity, inclusion and equity for all populations. The Department will continue efforts to make improvements to policies, practices, and training that allow everyone in Austin to feel safe and protected."

Austin Police Association Ken Casaday told KXAN that the reports don't acknowledge the improvements made to the APD training academy in the last few years and said cadets need to be put in "high-stress situations" so as to be prepared for the job.

APA has been critical of the council's decision to cut APD funding and suspend the training academy.

The first of the canceled classes would have been APD's first with a majority of minority candidates, according to the union. "We are so proud of the great work our recruiting unit did to produce these numbers," APA wrote in an Aug. 14 Facebook post. "Unfortunately, this city council has destroyed the hard work done by (the) recruiting (division)."

Criminal justice reform advocates argue that the reports add to the serious concerns already raised about the training academy and police department.

Scott Hensen, executive director of the criminal justice reform nonprofit Just Liberty and author of the Grits for Breakfast blog, wrote on Saturday that the Peace Mill report "should put an end to discussions of restarting the police academy any time soon." He added: "We're only beginning to understand the depths of problems at the academy, which start with agency leadership. They won't be fixed overnight."

The city's equity office will follow up with APD leadership later this month and next to address the reports' findings.

Meanwhile, APD remains under scrutiny.

A community is reviewing training videos used by the training academy and is scheduled to submit its findings to the city later this month. Council members also approved a contract with another independent consulting firm in November to investigate APD following an anonymous complaint alleging that an assistant chief used racist language. Findings are expected by the end of this year.

The Texas Legislative Council has also drafted language for a proposed law that would transfer control of APD to the state, a move that Gov. Greg Abbott has said he supports.


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