AUSTIN, Texas - 63 new Austin police officers graduated from the 145th and 146th cadet classes Friday.
Chief Joseph Chacon says the new officers will allow him to end mandatory backfill, meaning detectives and corporals will no longer be pulled to patrol because of staffing.
"This is the now the second and third class that we are graduating under this new kind of reimagined police academy," said Chief Chacon. "You know, I almost don't even want to call it reimagined anymore because this is our new normal….they're better trained than they've ever been before."
These new officers are better trained to tackle some of the department's greatest challenges yet as it continues to struggle with staffing, the result of canceled cadet classes and attrition.
"So currently, I'm about 280 officers down from my authorized rank with this 63," says Chacon, adding that the new officers will enable him to end mandatory backfill. "You take everyone in the department of detectives, corporals and there and we're pushing them back to patrol for short periods of time, anywhere from a day to a week at a time. And this will eliminate the need for that. However, the officers that I have to take, say, from our DWI unit, from our motors unit, and those will still have to remain on patrol."
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Chacon says they used to see thousands of applicants each cadet class; now that number is in the hundreds.
"And because of the high hiring standards that we have in all of the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement rules, you know it's hard it's a very small percentage of that number that actually make it into the academy," said Chacon.
The department has changed their own standards for cadet classes for things like credit history, physical fitness, and cannabis use, criteria they felt was holding limiting female and minority candidates. "We have not lowered standards," said Chacon.
11 percent of the new graduates are female, among them Arlene Lopez of the 145th cadet class. "It's always been my purpose," she said. "I never lost sight of it in my heart."
The lifelong Austinite is finally living out her dream of becoming a police officer, after raising her two children as a single mother.
"I can really relate to our community," she said.