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Posted on: Monday, 29 March 2021
It’s been more than a year since Austin started training new police. It could restart this summer
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City Council members voted Thursday to make changes to how Austin police are trained, with the eventual goal of restarting cadet classes by June 7 at the latest.

The police academy has not welcomed a group of new trainees since February 2020.

The vote was split 8-1-2, with Council Member Greg Casar voting against, and Council members Vanessa Fuentes and Natasha Harper-Madison abstaining.

“I believe there should be no further delay or no further restrictions on our cadet class,” said Council Member Mackenzie Kelly, who ran a campaign for the Northwest Austin seat last year on a platform of resuming classes. “I hope that the time is now to bring forward the police academy.”

The 144th class of the Austin Police Academy, which was set to start last June, will be run differently and be under more scrutiny than past classes, the city says.

City staff say among the changes they will make are incorporating more adult learning strategies and reviewing all teaching materials to make sure diversity and inclusion are priorities. The state dictates what police need to learn, though, which limits how extensive changes to the curriculum can be.

If the city follows through with these changes, Council members say they will approve the $2.2 million needed to fund the next cadet class. It’ll be run as a pilot, meaning an independent evaluator will review how the training is going and recommend any changes for future classes.

While a vote on funding is still required to officially resume cadet classes, some Council members said they felt the city was moving too quickly.

“I still don’t feel fully comfortable that we have taken the time necessary to get this baked in time for it starting,” Casar said.

Last year, City Manager Spencer Cronk created a Reimagining Public Safety Task Force made up of city staff and community members.

In a letter to Council earlier this month, members of the task force said they objected to resuming cadet classes until certain issues are addressed, such as the rate at which police stop and arrest Black drivers compared to white drivers.

To move forward now feels like a breach of trust, one of the task force co-chairs told KUT.

“It really wears away the trust of, not just those of us on the task force as community representatives, but also all the hundreds of other community members we’ve taken to help talk through this reimagining process,” Paula Rojas, a volunteer member of Communities of Color United, said.

Council members asked Cronk to make changes to police training in December 2019, after receiving anonymous complaints that an assistant police chief used a racist term for Black people and former cadets testified about intimidation and discrimination.

Council asked him to do so by June 2020 or otherwise postpone cadet classes; the pandemic delayed Cronk’s work, so the city hit pause on the training.

The proposed changes Council members voted on Thursday come on the heels of several unfavorable reports about how the city recruits and trains new police, including a review of training videos, which community members said perpetuated racist, sexist and classist ideas.

Consultants with the firm Kroll Associates, based in Philadelphia, also reviewed training materials and suggested many of the changes Council members voted on Thursday. The city agreed last year to pay the firm up to $1.3 million to audit the materials used to train police as part of a larger review of racist police interactions with the public.

Consultants presented preliminary findings to the Council members in March, and plan to finish their review of training materials next month.

This story was produced as part of the Austin Monitor’s reporting partnership with KUT.

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