Third-Party Report Finds Police Academy Hasn’t Implemented Crucial Reforms

Council stresses need for internal audit process

The 139th cadet class salutes the color guard during a graduation ceremony at Great Hills Baptist Church on August 31, 2018 (Photo by John Anderson)

Law enforcement consultants Kroll Associates have released what may be their final report – unless City Council authorizes more – with recommended changes to APD’s training academy, and the main takeaway is that APD has done a shoddy job of implementing recommendations, on a much longer timeline than necessary.

As they take their leave, Kroll recommends future implementation “be closely monitored,” and suggests a robust internal audit process for APD to keep Council abreast of the situation.

In an emergency meeting of the Public Safety Committee on Monday, Council Member Alison Alter noted, “we have the 151st class graduating in April – we’ve been waiting since the 145th class to get these reports, which were supposed to be there. We need to have a plan for how this is happening.”

APD says it doesn’t have the staff nor the data to put together an internal audit on the newest graduating cadet class by April. This delay in implementing reforms has been a consistent theme: Kroll began its probe after the May 2020 protests, when APD’s training was called into question after officers seriously injured protesters with “less lethal” bean bag rounds.

The consultants’ priorities were to look into recruitment, training, and promotion protocols; the lack of investigation into improper use of force cases; patterns of racial and sexual discrimination within the department; and suppression of those who spoke out about it.

Ultimately, the goal was to “reimagine public safety” by transforming the department from a “warrior” to a “guardian” mindset. Kroll started presenting recommendations for how to do so as early as March 2021, and in 2022, the city estimated the process of implementing them would take six months. Instead, by December 2023, the report notes “APD had yet to begin writing processes for over half of the items.”

Even as the final Kroll report is released, APD’s operations manual is still not complete – the report reads, “the failure of APD to complete this manual in the time originally designated is symptomatic of a larger problem of the department appearing to do just enough to suggest progress without completely embracing and accepting the hard work of change.”

APD hasn’t yet formed a professional advisory committee or community advisory council, civilian groups which would meet quarterly with leadership, despite promising to do so, and though the manual stresses the inclusion of active learning principles and trauma-informed curriculum, it “does not clearly define a process that Academy staff can use to enforce [those] principles,” reads the report. It also does not address whether civilian training staff is authorized to make changes to curriculum, or outline how APD will implement “much needed improvements … that will ensure that cadet training … remains consistent with and does not undermine what the cadets learn at the Academy.”

Throughout the presentation to Council Monday, Rob McGrath, who was recently hired to handle curriculum and instruction at the police academy, stressed that the operations manual is a “living document meant to guide us,” and that multiple leadership changes over the last four years have made it difficult to implement the recommendations. In that time, there have been four different assistant chiefs and five different commanders.

In addition to a lack of consistent leadership, in 2023, one of Kroll’s reports noted that "institutional barriers within APD and a resistance to re-thinking training" were pervasive among instructors at the academy. Alter pointed out that really the only consistent point of contact Council has had throughout this process was Kroll itself.

Interim Chief Robin Henderson stressed that the buck stops with her, and that she and her staff have made these reforms a priority. However, Alter noted, with Kroll gone, a clear audit process for each cadet class and a solid operations manual are “that much more important, because this is how we are gonna be able to hold the academy accountable.”

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS POST

Austin Police Department, Austin Police Academy, Kroll, City Council

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