AUSTIN, Texas - President of the Austin Police Association Ken Casaday says two cadets have been forced to resign from the Austin Police Academy to maintain "good standing" with the Austin Police Department. Two more cadets may be forced to resign or terminated after testing positive for COVID-19.
According to Casaday, cadets are required to test regularly for COVID-19 during their 34 weeks of training. The City of Austin and Austin Police Department do not require COVID-19 vaccinations — so Casaday would not share the cadets' vaccination status with FOX 7 Austin.
"These [forced resignations] and proposed terminations are based on the cadets’ exposure to the communicable disease and nothing else. Their performance and conduct at the training academy have fully met department standards of excellence," he said.
According to District 6 Austin City Council Member Mackenzie Kelly, there are currently 198 vacancies in the department.
"This is a new level of incompetence of city and police leadership to dismiss cadets at what is an emergency time staffing-wise," said Retired Lt. Wayne Vincent. Vincent spent three decades with the Austin Police Department. He also served as president of the Austin Police Association.
Friday, Austin Police Chief Joseph Chacon announced the department will no longer respond to certain non-emergency calls because it is short-staffed. "It would seem like a good course of action to continue to allow the cadets to quarantine at home and to make up the skills," said Kelly.
Selena Xie, head of the Austin-Travis County EMS Association told FOX 7 Austin EMS cadets use On the Job Injury (OJI) time for COVID-19 — and that the fire department has a similar policy.
"In the state of Texas, we just passed a law that if a first responder gets COVID, that they got it on the job. So, our cadets who have had COVID are allowed to keep their job even if they have to miss some time," said Xie, referencing SB 22.
Still, it remains unclear what protections cadets are legally entitled to before completing the academy. FOX 7 Austin attempted to contact the Austin Police media relations team seven times via phone and email Tuesday. They did not respond to requests for information.
"I do wish that it was more standard across the board… All three departments and especially EMS, are in a complete staffing shortage and we need to make sure that we bring in and retain qualified applicants," said Xie.
UPDATE: The Austin Police Department released the following statement:
"The Austin Police Department (APD) is aware of our current staffing challenges and strives to retain and graduate as many qualified cadets as possible. Our Academy staff make every effort to work with cadets who have missed class due to injury or illness. Due to the academy’s training structure, it is not always possible to provide additional time necessary for the cadets to complete the requirements needed to graduate.
While earlier parts of the academy curriculum could have been completed virtually, we are now at a stage of training that requires in-person and hands-on tactical application. We are disappointed any time a cadet is unable to complete the academy.
No cadets have been fired due to injury or illness, but instead have resigned knowing they are eligible to attend the next scheduled academy class. The Department is committed to supporting our police cadets and looks forward to them serving as law enforcement officers to create a safer Austin for residents and visitors."