Austin faces serious public safety challenges, notably homelessness and police staffing. This week, let’s discuss police patrol shortages and academy training.
The first round of Austin Police Department staffing reassignments went into effect this month, which moved eighty-nine officers from specialized units back to patrol. These reallocations were made to adjust the patrol workload to account for some of the 150 police positions the Austin City Council cut in the current fiscal year budget. With a projected $6 million overtime budget shortfall this fiscal year, further cuts to specialized units are anticipated.
Last year, the Austin Police Department lost about eleven officers per month through resignations and retirements. In the first four months of this fiscal year, the police department has already lost an average of fifteen officers per month. The department will have more than seventy-five vacancies by the end of January, in addition to positions previously cut from the budget.
Patrol vacancies are usually filled as cadets graduate from the training academy, but the June 2020 and November 2020 cadet classes were canceled, and no future cadet classes are planned. The last class of forty-two cadets graduated in October 2020. Although the Austin City Council cut funding for all three cadet classes planned this fiscal year, a budget rider left open the possibility of resuming cadet classes when curriculum and operational improvements are made.
Patrol staffing shortages are among the most important reasons to restart the Austin Police Department Training Academy this spring. If a cadet class begins in April, graduates will not be on the streets until November at the earliest.
More than a year after an Austin City Council resolution requiring training improvements and three months after the last scheduled cadet class graduated, where are we?
Much work has been done to improve the Austin Police Department Training Academy. Two comprehensive police training academy evaluations were completed early last year that recommended improvements, which are being implemented.
In May 2020, Dr. Sara Villanueva completed an analysis that examined the culture, curriculum, and organizational structure. The following month, Dr. Miguel Ferguson released a review of Austin Police Department training materials related to diversity, equity, and inclusion. (A summary of the Ferguson and Villanueva recommendations is available here.)
In December 2020, the Equity Office released reports examining racial equity in Austin Police Department divisions (an overview of the report’s claims and responses is available here), and the City Council approved a contract with Kroll Associates Inc. to deliver a comprehensive analysis of the police department. An expedited training review by Kroll is expected in February or March. This month, a community panel and facilitator released reports on training videos used in the cadet curriculum.
The Austin Police Department Recruiting and Training division has made significant changes in response to the city council resolution and recent report findings. The cadet class that graduated last fall and the next class’s eligibility list are two of the most diverse in the police department’s history.
Academy staff have completed advanced diversity and training courses. Cadet curriculum will include a new eight-hour “History of Police and Race in America” course developed by the Office of Police Oversight and an expanded community engagement guest lecturer program focused on diversity, equity, and inclusion.
Detailed lesson plans for the Basic Peace Officer Course curriculum are being updated and scheduled to be completed next month. Two weeks ago, the police department’s state training advisory board, including academic experts and community members, approved the revised curriculum framework and schedule for the next cadet class.
Seventeen weeks (696 hours) of police training is stated-mandated, so more curriculum changes and improvements can be made during the first four months of the next cadet class without further delaying the academy.
Stay safe, and thank a first responder.
P.S. The Chief’s Monthly Report for December was recently released. Crime increased in several categories last year. Murder (42 percent), aggravated assault (22 percent), burglary (10 percent), and robbery (5 percent) were all up in 2020. Overall, Crimes Against Persons were down 1 percent, and Crimes Against Property were flat compared to the previous year.