100% Austin news, info, and entertainment, straight to your inbox at 6 a.m. every morning.
In five minutes, you're fully informed and ready to start another great day in our city.
New reports add to findings of racial inequities, allegations of cadet hazing at Austin Police Department
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 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.
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.
- City Manager to outline plans for change at Austin Police Department ›
- Voting on the funding of the Austin police department - austonia ›
- List of proposed changes to Austin Police Department after protests ... ›
- What the future holds for Austin Police Chief Brian Manley - austonia ›
- Two days of protest: demonstrators shut down I-35, Austin police ... ›
- Austin City Council votes to resume police training academy - austonia ›
- Austin City Council to vote on restarting police academy - austonia ›
- Who wants to become a police officer after george floyd outrage - austonia ›
- Austin police pilot cadet class is the most diverse ever - austonia ›
After reaching Stage 4 last week of Austin Public Health's risk-based guidelines, Austin-Travis County is now at the Stage 5 threshold with a seven-day average of 50 hospitalizations and dwindling ICU capacity.
While unenforceable under Gov. Greg's Abbott order against local mandates, vaccinated individuals are asked to choose drive-through and curbside options, outdoor activities, social interactions with limited group sizes, as well as social distance and wearing masks indoors. Partially or unvaccinated individuals are asked to avoid gatherings, travel, dining and shopping, choose curbside and delivery options, as well as wear a mask on essential trips.
Flashing back to early-pandemic times, hospitals are at critical capacity—the 11 county Trauma Service Region of 2.3 million people is fluctuating at 16 staffed beds, according to APH.
In a statement on behalf of Ascension Seton, Baylor Scott & White Health and St. David's Healthcare, a spokesperson said that hospitals are asking residents to "help us and each other" by getting vaccinated and continuing to utilize safety practices to slow the spread of the virus.
According to the statement, a "longstanding" nurse staffing challenge combined with the recent COVID-19 spike is putting "extraordinary pressure" on hospital systems.
Along with the unmitigated spread of the virus in unvaccinated, the more contagious Delta variant is also to blame for the spike in cases. The seven-day moving average of COVID hospitalizations in the Austin area reached the Stage 5 threshold of 50 on Friday, triggering local health officials to ask residents to take action.
Local hospitals have a "surge plan" that includes utilization of "all available patient care space and employees within our hospitals and in other settings" that will go into effect when capacity is hit, according to the statement.
The hospitals are working on sourcing supplemental staff and emphasized that emergency care will still be available but it may involve patient transfers "in order to provide the most appropriate care."
Healthcare systems have hit this threshold previously during the pandemic: the city held an alternate care site at the Austin Convention Center from January to March of this year.
"Our responsibility during this pandemic continues to be balancing our readiness to care for patients with COVID-19, while making sure patients who depend on our hospitals receive needed and timely care," the statement said. "We do not want to see necessary non-COVID care delayed as it was during the early stages of the pandemic."
This story has been updated to after publication to include that Austin has reached the Stage 5 threshold.
- Everything you need to know about breakthrough cases in Austin ... ›
- Vaccine demand follows Austin ZIP codes with most COVID cases ›
- Delta variant, unvaccinated fuel rise of Austin COVID cases - austonia ›
- Austin bars, restaurants respond to Abbott's reopening order - austonia ›
- 1 1/12 oz sweet pepper-infused Tito's Handmade Vodka
- 3 oz soda water
- 1 oz grapefruit juice
- 1/2 oz lime juice
- 1/4 oz simple syrup
Austin legend Willie Nelson will perform at the Texas Capitol today, his first large performance since the pandemic began, closing out a four-day long march across Central Texas to build support for federal voting protections.
Organized by The Poor People's Campaign, the march began in Georgetown on Wednesday and will end with a 10 a.m. rally at the Capitol featuring appearances from former U.S. Congressman Beto O'Rourke and Rev. Dr. William Barber.
Willie Nelson (with Charlie Sexton & friends) will play a free concert at the Poor People's Campaign march for democracy & justice in Austin this Saturday! https://t.co/zZSA0BpbWA
Sign up to join us and see Willie at 10am Saturday: https://t.co/KrDPIFIvST
— Beto O'Rourke (@BetoORourke) July 29, 2021
The rally calls on Congress to "stop attacks on democracy" by ending the filibuster, pass all provisions of the For the People Act, restore the 1965 Voting Rights Act, raise the federal minimum wage to $15 per hour and pass permanent protections for all 11 million undocumented immigrants.
Nelson denounced election law proposals gaining traction in red states, such as Senate Bill 1 and House Bill 3 in Texas, which 55 House Democrats foiled by fleeing to Washington, D.C., on July 12.
The bills would require additional ID verifications for mail-in ballots, allow partisan poll watchers "free movement" and prohibit elections officials from sending absentee ballot applications to voters who didn't request one.
"Laws making it more difficult for people to vote are unAmerican and are intended to punish people of color, the elderly and disabled," Nelson said. "If you can't win by playing the rules, then it's you and your platform–not everyone else's ability to vote."
The march is in the spirit of the Selma to Montgomery March of 1965, led by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., which protested the blocking of Black Americans' right to vote by Jim Crow laws.