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Police Union Responds to Shooting of Unarmed Teen: Saving Dollars 'May Have Cost a Life'

Ben Philpott for KUT News
Police union President Ken Casaday said that the police department is chronically understaffed, which puts a strain on officers' decision-making abilities.

The president of Austin’s police officers union said that incidents like the fatal officer-involved shooting of unarmed teenager David Joseph last week stem from chronic understaffing within the department.

The President of the Austin Police Association, Ken Casaday, spoke publicly about the shooting Tuesday afternoon, citing shortages of patrol officers as one cause leading to incidents like the shooting last week involving Officer Geoffrey Freeman, who is now on administrative duty as per APD protocol. Casaday wasted no time laying blame for the shooting at the feet of an understaffed, under-budgeted police department.

"Our department is currently over 145 police officers short. That number is only going to continue to go up over the next year. Most of these vacancies are on patrol, where staffing vital to insure that officers have more options when forced to make split-second decisions,” Casaday said.

There were only seven officers working the morning of the shooting in what's called the Edwards Sector, a segment of Northeast Austin, Casaday said. He said after Officer Freeman fired at 17-year-old David Joseph, it took three minutes for backup to get to the scene. He also chided APD Chief Art Acevedo for taking pride in bringing the department in under budget:

"He expects us to be safe, keep the community safe, without sufficient backup. The Austin Fire Department operates at 100 percent every day. Why doesn’t the Austin Police Department?," Casaday said. "Our administration has been saving dollars, and it looks like it may have cost a life."

The second part of the press conference focused on Officer Freeman. Chandra Ervin is president of the Texas Peace Officers Association, which represents black police officers and other minority groups on the force. While she offered her condolences to the Joseph family, she said she has been focusing on trying to heal Freeman's mental state.

"I have asked many members of the TPOA just to call him. I asked some of the guys to talk about basketball stuff, talk about football stuff. Something so that his mind is not just concentrating on that one event," Ervin said.

Grant Goodwin of the Combined Law Enforcement Associations of Texas is one of the attorneys representing Officer Freeman. Goodwin said race had nothing to do with this shooting, then quickly pivoted back to the theme of an understaffed, undertrained police force.

"We believe in the long run the facts will simply play out that it was a difficult situation, that any officer could have found themself in, regardless of the race of those involved,” Goodwin said. “And the outcome would be the same, without further staffing and training."

Last week, Chief Acevedo held a press conference with members of the local Black Lives Matter movement, promising to wrap up an internal investigation into the shooting within 30 days. Casaday said allowing that group to be part of an official press conference inside APD headquarters was insulting. He called for an independent investigation into the shooting that would take longer than 30 days to make sure a toxicology report on Joseph can be completed.

Acevedo released a statement Tuesday afternoon in response to the union's remarks.

"I am aware of the comments made by the Austin Police Association," he said via an emailed statement. "While I respect their views, I will not be commenting any further. As stated last week, our focus is on a complete and impartial investigation, which we owe to both the Joseph and Freeman families, as well as the Austin community."

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