OPO report could lead to policy changes for Austin Police

Policy changes could be in the works for the Austin Police Department following a recently released report from the Office of Police Oversight. The report details policy recommendations through feedback from the community on APD’s use-of-force policy.

The majority of community members from this report believe APD needs to do a better job at de-escalation, exhausting all other options before using deadly force, and better communicating when they are about to shoot.

"Far too many of APD's policies are unclear and unaligned with national best practices in policing," said OPO Director Farah Muscadin. "Our goal was to provide an opportunity for community members to share their concerns about APD's use of force policies and better align policies with community expectations and best practices."

Community members submitted more than 1,400 surveys with more than 2,200 comments for this report:

  • 52% said police should use all available alternatives before using deadly force,
  • 61% said police needs to practice de-escalation especially if a disability, a mental health condition, or fear could affect someone’s ability to follow officer’s orders.
  • 80% agree witnessing officers should intervene if improper or excessive use of force is done by another officer
  • 55% of respondents believed that policy must specify how an officer should give a warning before shooting.
  • 47% of respondents agreed that officers should be prohibited from the act of shooting while driving or riding in a moving vehicle, while another 47% disagreed

"I think the community is frustrated and angry at what's happened from everything from George Floyd that didn't happen here to Mike Ramos to, you know, even Mauris Desilva," said attorney Jarrod Smith, who represents the Desilva family.

In 2019, Dr. Mauris Desilva was shot and killed by two Austin Police officers while having a mental health crisis. Both officers have been indicted for murder and now awaiting trial.

Smith says these policies could have saved Desilva's life. "I hope the City of Austin and APD take these proposed changes to heart and actually make these changes and then actually implement them in a way that there's also oversight. I think that would put us more in step with other progressive cities in America that have already made these changes," said Smith.

The report also reveals 53% say chokeholds and strongholds should be banned.

"We don't do that anyway. It's against policy. We don't train officers on it," says Det. Joe Swann with the Austin Police Association, who also says APD will take everything in this report into consideration because they serve the community. Although, he adds it is hard to judge a policy unless you are in the situation.

"Some of our community members don't know use of force, understand combat. It's very easy to sit and watch an officer on video when they're having to use it, which never looks good, and kind of tear that down and say ‘oh, I0 would have done this differently, I would have done that differently’ with the benefit of hindsight, but vast majority of our use of force cases are straightforward. I'll scream it from the mountaintops, a lot of people don't realize from Austin what an amazing department we have. We are by far the best highly trained department in the state of Texas," said Detective Swann.

APD and the City Manager will review OPO's final recommendations before incorporating them into the General Orders. APD will bring changes to the General Orders to the City Council for feedback before they are implemented.

SUBSCRIBE: Daily Newsletter | YouTube
FOLLOW: Facebook | Instagram | Twitter