Of the dozen times in 2018 when an Austin police officer shot at someone, nearly half took place in District 2 in Southeast Austin, according to a new report from the city's Office of Police Oversight.
Three of those shootings in District 2 were fatal.
“It definitely was surprising to see how disproportionate it was,” said Mayor Pro Tem Delia Garza, who represents the majority-Latino district. She said a lack of access to health care, specifically mental health care, could be to blame.
“Southeast Austin is full of hard-working, amazing people that want the same opportunities that other Austin families do," she said.
The Office of Police Oversight also noted in the report that officers in 2018 did not try to de-escalate the situations before firing their guns.
“Officers’ apparent failure to use de-escalation tactics in many of the incidents, as well as their failure to use ‘less-lethal’ force options in all but one incident, is deeply troubling and requires further explanation by the department,” staff wrote.
Southeast Austin is also where Officer Christopher Taylor shot and killed Mike Ramos last April. The 42-year-old Black and Hispanic man was killed in the parking lot of an apartment complex just north of District 2.
In response to protests against police killings and systemic racism, City Council members voted last week on several changes to APD’s budget and officer policies.
Before the vote, Austin Police Chief Brian Manley told City Council members the department requires officers to try to de-escalate a situation. According to the department’s policy manual, APD encourages officers to listen and talk to the person involved, allowing them to tell “their side of the story,” and telling them what the consequences might be if they don’t comply with officers.
Staff with the Office of Police Oversight also found several patterns regarding race among the 12 shootings in 2018:
- The five people shot and killed by police were non-white
- Six of the people shot at by police were Latino men
- Of the 33 APD officers involved, 25 were white men
“The 2018 data clearly reveals a disparate concentration of officer-involved shooting incidents affecting individuals who are ethnic minorities, as well as in areas of Austin that are historically minority-majority,” the report reads. “APD must account for these demographic and geographic disparities.”
In addition, the department also found that at least half of the police shootings in 2018 involved a “mental health component,” where either police, a 911 caller or the person’s friends or family described mental health problems. In 2018, the City Auditor released a report stating that of the largest cities in the U.S., Austin had the highest per-capita rate of police shootings of people experiencing a mental health crisis.
The Office of Police Oversight closed its report by recommending several changes within the police department: that the department release its own annual reports on police shootings, that the department provide more consistent training on how to respond to mental health calls and that it provide the Office of Police Oversight more access to documents on police shootings.
City Council members have already said they intend to go beyond some of these recommendations; last week, they voted to direct city staff to move money away from the police department and into social services, including mental health services, so that officers are responding to fewer of these types of calls. But the specifics won’t be decided until the council begins budget discussions next month.
This was the first report from the Office of Police Oversight on APD shootings. The office said it plans to release them annually.
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