Adding to the pile of problems burdening Austin's currently shuttered police academy, audit reports released this week take a dim view of the training videos used to teach cadets how to protect and serve. After reviewing more than 100 such videos, a six-member community panel working with outside facilitators has urged that more than half of them be struck from the academy curriculum.
That curriculum is already being revised, part of City Council's moves over the past 13 months to steer the Austin Police Department toward the community's expectations for equitable justice and "reimagining public safety." The postponement of cadet classes is what's freed up most of the $21 million reallocated from APD's budget this fiscal year, to the consternation of APD and its friends in high places, such as Gov. Greg Abbott. While some on Council have entertained bringing a new cadet class on board sooner rather than later, in response to department and union harangues about APD being short-staffed, prevailing opinion at City Hall is that the academy needs a thorough reboot to produce the kind of police officer Austin wants, which will take time.
This video review was initiated back in December 2019, in the wake of scandalous revelations of racist conduct and language among APD's highest ranks. The resolution adopted by Council then – known as Resolution 66 – initiated the Tatum report that laid out evidence of pervasive racism, sexism and homophobia at APD that veteran officers had no hope whatsoever would ever be addressed. It also addressed testimony by former APD cadets that these patterns were baked into the police force from the beginning, at the academy, with its militaristic models and biased curriculum.
Several reports have already been delivered to Council that confirm these claims, which the video review panel cites in its own findings. The panel identifies clear patterns among the 112 videos it examined that are largely and sadly unsurprising. In the clips, mostly white male officers treat people of color harshly as standard practice, while extending "grace and understanding" to other white men (who are "allowed to be in crisis") and disrespecting their female colleagues. "A strong emphasis on gaining compliance and control over all else from communities of color often led to rapid escalation with often violent and even deadly results for minor infractions," the panel writes. Many videos are couched as "what not to do," but examples of what to do instead are rare.
The often poor-quality videos come from a motley array of sources, the panel says, some of which sound like outtakes from reality shows like Cops and Live PD, with music and production values that reinforce what the "warrior cop" culture wants cadets to believe – that officers are always in danger and need to "win" in encounters with civilians that have to be confrontational and escalate toward deadly force. The panel notes, accurately, that violence against police has been in steady decline even as violence by police continues unabated, and that lots of other workers – farmers, truck drivers, roofers, airline pilots – are far more likely to die on the job than cops.
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