Austin Police Flag Officers Who Need Extra Training. But City Auditors Say The System Isn't Working.
Researchers with the city auditor's office have found that a system the Austin Police Department uses to signal when an officer may need additional support or guidance does not work, according to a report released Wednesday.
“The Austin Police Department’s early intervention system does not fulfill its mission to effectively identify officers who may need assistance and connect officers to support services,” auditors wrote.
Police departments across the U.S. employ what are called early intervention systems. These programs consider certain data points, such as how often an officer gets into a physical altercation while on the job, and then flag officers who may need additional training or counseling based on that data.
In 2006, APD started using its early intervention program, called the Guidance Advisory Program (GAP). APD considers whether or not to “intervene” with officers depending on three factors: how often officers use physical force, how many internal affairs complaints have been filed against them and how much sick leave they use.
If an officer exceeds limits the department has set in any of these categories — for instance, if an officer patrolling downtown has been involved in more than nine use-of-force incidents in a year — that officer is “flagged” by the department. Superiors are then supposed to decide if this officer’s behavior calls for additional training or counseling.
But city auditors found that superiors rarely pursue any of these cases.
Auditors looked at 60 cases in which the intervention system flagged officers. In only 7% of these cases did APD identify issues that needed to be changed.
But in none of these cases did higher-ups create a formal action plan to address behavior or refer officers to support services.
“While APD has many of the recommended programs and services to meet officers’ needs, it does not appear the GAP connects officers to these services,” the report reads.
But APD Interim Police Chief Joseph Chacon said while the system may flag an officer, it is still up to the supervisor to contextualize this data.
“It is not that we’ve identified that this officer needs resources and we’re failing to connect them with the resources,” Chacon told City Council members Wednesday, after auditors briefed them on the report during a virtual meeting. “The problem is that this program is not designed to detect trends and patterns. It just gives you the raw data.”
Auditors found that another issue was the software used by the department, which in several cases pulled incorrect data; some officers who met certain thresholds and should have been flagged were not. To fix this, APD has been relying on an employee to manually check data, which can be time-consuming.
“Relying on one individual to conduct and manually check the analysis is not an effective process and does not provide assurance that all errors are identified,” auditors wrote.
Chacon said the department is working on updating its software, but that it had no definite timeline for when this would happen.
He stressed Wednesday that while the intervention program was flawed, he felt it was worthwhile.
“We understand the need for the early intervention system,” Chacon said. “We’re trying to prevent problems that officers might have, and we’re also trying to save officer careers and keep them out of trouble before they get themselves into trouble.”
Some council members said the auditors’ findings represented a larger problem: a lack of interest in change within the department.
“There are known deficiencies that have been deprioritized, at best, or on the other hand completely dismissed or deemed permissible,” Council Member Alison Alter, who represents Northwest Austin, said. “To me this really reflects the larger concerns that we’ve been trying to work with, with the department in the reimagining process.”
But Council Member Mackenzie Kelly, who represents Far Northwest Austin, said she felt the root of the problem was not a disinterest in disciplining officers.
“To me, this is a data issue, not an issue where officers are not being held accountable,” Kelly said. “Obviously, it can be corrected.”
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