Austin police are keeping an open dialogue between officers and the community to address issues that have come up locally and nationally.
Saturday, officers held a town hall meeting in East Austin to discuss racial profiling and holding police accountable.
There were two big takeaways for those who attended the meeting. People in the crowd learned that they have more options then they thought to report an officer that they feel treated them unfairly. They also got a better idea of how people of different races are treated by law enforcement in Austin.
“We're not going to get anywhere as a community if we don't work together,” said Frank Dixon, Assistant Chief of Police at Austin Police Department.
That's why Austin police officers started hosting town hall meetings with the community in 2006.
“It's just an avenue for us to get out in the community, talk to the community, not just educate them, but have some really honest and open forums where we talk about the race and policing, community police relations and such,” Dixon said.
Saturday, Dixon focused the discussion on racial profiling in the Austin community and used statistics to show that Austin is ahead of much of the nation when it comes to treating all races the same.
“A lot of times what we find when we go out to these events is people base their perceptions on law enforcement off of television, whether it be television shows which are not reality, media stories from outside of Austin, so you're taking a snapshot of law enforcement from a national perspective and you're trying to apply it to Austin,” said Dixon.
But some attendees were still discouraged by the data showing black drivers are more likely to be stopped by police than white drivers.
“It's very disheartening. I think that shows we have a lot more work to do here in Austin, but it takes all of us getting involved,” said Eric Jones who attended the town hall meeting Saturday.
When Dixon told the public the proper ways to interact with police during a traffic stop, many asked how they can report an officer that unfairly targets them.
“It's really concerning when I go out and talk at these types of forums and we find out that our citizens that we're working for they don't know that they can call for a supervisor when they feel like they're being unjustly treated,” Dixon said.
“We learned a lot of tools to equip us for interactions with the police. Not all cops are bad, but then also how to maneuver through situations that don't feel good. So I definitely feel empowered leaving this meeting and I look forward to the future ones,” said Erika Crespo who was also at Saturday’s meeting.
Police and those who attended the town hall meeting hope with more open conversations like Saturdays, they will be able to bridge the gap that formed when people stopped trusting the officers sworn to protect them.
“At the end of the day, we want everyone to go home safe; the people that we're contacting, the general public behind them and the law enforcement officer making the contact,” Dixon said.
APD officers said they hold town hall meetings four times a year and any concerns brought up during the discussion are brought back to the department so they can look into ways to better address them.