AUSTIN, Texas - This January’s graduating cadet class was the first to feel the shakeup at the Austin Police Department Training Academy, in light of the city’s Reimagining Public Safety initiative following racial justice protests two years ago.
On Monday, Austin City Council’s Public Safety Committee got an update from an outside consulting firm, Kroll Inc., on the changes made so far, such as:
- Community engagement training
- Training on racial equity, and the history of race and policing
- De-escalation training
- Training on interacting with the LGBTQ community
- Expanding mentorship opportunities
"My first thought is that Rome wasn’t built in a day. We are overhauling an entire police cadet academy and we are rebuilding it from the ground up," said Austin City Council Member Mackenzie Kelly, who represents District 6.
But in their report, the consultants did find that so far, some cadets were skeptical of the changes.
"There’s still some work to be done for some rank and file staff members to really buy into change," said Mark Ehlers, a managing director of Kroll.
"I think the hesitation to accept the change puts us in a position where the city and the department aren’t allies from the start," said District 1 Council Member Natasha Harper-Madison.
"We added some additional recommendations involving training, and some of that directly relates to some of the encounters we saw in the use of force," said Rick Brown of Kroll.
The changes to training comes as the academy struggles to address a staffing problem, outlined in a new memo from Assistant City Manager Ray Arellano.
It says APD has 190 open positions, a 10.5% vacancy rate. It’s a problem shared by Fire and EMS as well. The memo also reveals that staffing needs will only increase in the coming years.
"I’m excited to see that the Austin Police Department is going to request more officers year over year," said Kelly.
While APD does plan to hold three cadet classes this year alone, city officials found the Academy lacks training space and staff.
But if the Academy is able to increase training capacity by 50%, according to Arellano’s memo, APD would be able to lower its vacancy rate by 2026. If training capacity is increased by 75%, it could happen by 2024.
"We need additional staffing capacity for the command positions that do the training for these public safety entities. We need additional places for these people to train. We need the space to provide that training. We need the capacity to be increased. There are so many little nuances that need to be addressed before we can make a dent in our overall public safety vacancies that we need to get on it yesterday," said Kelly.