Austin Police Must Make 'Sweeping' Reform To Training, Recruitment To Address Racism, Report Says
A new report suggests the Austin Police Department faces "systemic" issues in how it is handling efforts to diversify its workforce and revamp its training.
Commissioned by the city's Equity Office, the report from Peace Mill Research and Communications calls for Austin to continue its moratorium on police cadet classes until the department's training and recruitment undergo "sweeping structural reforms."
Peace Mill's report was part of a 152-page memo from the city's Equity Office released Tuesday afternoon. The analysis is part of a larger effort to examine equity in the city government.
The report comes at the tail end of a tumultuous year in which the City Council voted to cut APD's budget and "reimagine" public safety in response to a national reckoning with police violence and systemic racism – and a summer of protests against police violence that, in turn, led to serious injuries of protesters at the hands of police.
Raymond Weyandt, research director with Peace Mill, was contracted by the city to look into seven of the department's 48 divisions, and he says issues at APD's training and recruitment divisions stood out the most.
Weyandt's report argues APD doesn't effectively retain cadets of color and that its training doesn’t jibe with stated goals to reduce racism and inequity within the department and its policing practices.
As far as recruitment, he says APD leans heavily on Black, Latino and female officers in its recruitment material, but cadets of color are far more likely than white cadets to drop out.
"They're just continually underrepresented in the graduating classes, and year after year, it's not like the numbers are improving," he said. "If you're a Black cadet, you're much less likely to graduate the Austin Police Academy than your white, male counterparts – and that's a problem."
Just over 5% of Police Academy graduates from the last five years were Black, according to Weyandt's analysis of APD data.
An APD spokesperson said in a statement to KUT that the department is reviewing the memo's recommendations and "actively taking steps toward addressing internal and external inequities in APD policing."
As far as training, Weyandt says the department has been unable to shake the adversarial, militaristic culture that's dogged the Austin Police Academy for years.
That perceived culture and the academy's reputation have been at the fore in discussions over equity in policing in light of reports outlining and audits looking into racism among its leadership, its policing practices and the department as a whole.
In interviews with former cadets, Weyandt found "warrior mentality" within APD's training curriculum and among its instructors to be a common refrain. He says would-be graduates cited it as a reason they left the academy.
"You can change the curriculum all you want ... but if you do not change the culture of an academy that relies on this military-style training ... I don't understand how you're going to create different outcomes," Weyandt said. "It seems like the issues are more complex than just what's on the Powerpoint or what's in the textbook."
The city froze its cadet classes indefinitely in August, with the last cadet class graduating in October. Last month, Mayor Steve Adler and Council Member Alison Alter suggested reinstating cadet classes by as soon as next year.
Weyandt's report suggests that Austin continue that moratorium indefinitely – until the city and APD "rebuild the training academy and implement sweeping structural reforms to the training division."
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