Will APD change its militaristic academy?

This is just a small sample of what you get EVERY weekday if you subscribe to the Austin Politics Newsletter

On Dec. 29 the city of Austin released two reports prepared by two different consultants that examined the police department’s approach to race and diversity. These reports were prompted by Council actions that preceded the turmoil over police violence this year.

The first report was prepared by Raymond Weyandt, a grad student at the LBJ School of Public Policy and founder of the Peace Mill, a policy consulting group whose website could definitely benefit from a little more information about the group and the people behind it. He was tasked with assessing seven of APD’s 48 divisions on diversity and equity. The second was a report by Joyce James Consulting to “help identify racial inequities within APD and develop immediate and prolonged strategies to eliminate them.”

There’s too much go through in one day, so today I’m just going to focus on what I view as the most topical part of Weyandt’s report: his assessment of APD’s training and recruitment division, which is responsible for the 8-month cadet academy that every officer goes through before joining the force.

City Council members have been calling for reforms to the academy long before the George Floyd protests, citing claims by some former cadets that the training championed a militaristic, antagonistic approach to policing. After last year’s protests, Council, as part of its “reimagining public safety” thing, cancelled three cadet classes –– one that was scheduled for last November, one this spring and one next summer. The idea was that training shouldn’t resume until it is reformed, but in response to a wave of retirements and resignations, the mayor and Council are under increasing pressure to re-open the academy.

Some of the most notable findings by Weyandt:

Of the 70 employees of APD’s training division, only one is black

From 2015-20, only 48% of black men cadets graduated. They were much more likely to quit or leave due to injury, while 83% of Hispanic men and 82% of white men graduated. I would be wary of the stats on women due to their much smaller sample sizes, but about two-thirds of white women graduated, as did just over half of black women and Hispanic women. An oft-cited fact by those who opposed delaying the cadet classes was that the most recently-cancelled class was the most racially diverse in the city’s history.

“Multiple former cadets” in “separate” interviews said training staff denigrated the homeless and recommended the homeless as easy targets for citations on a “slow day”

”Multiple cadets stated that they and their colleagues had been screamed at or punished for checking on one another or drinking water during intense physical drills, which last for hours in sweltering summer heat”

“Data provided by APD confirms that a troubling number of cadets were treated for heat exhaustion and dehydration during the academy”

“The academy’s training staff employ dangerous training tactics that have been described by cadets with military backgrounds as ‘worse than anything I went through in [US military training].’”

Concerns that the academy promotes a Lethal Weapon mentality to policing go back many years. The Matrix Report, published in 2016, said the department’s marketing focused on “adventure, danger and the stress of a military-style academy” and that “APD staff should reconsider the image they are invoking to the public regarding police officers in Austin.”

That’s certainly the impression you get from this video of the academy done by APD. I’m not sure when it was filmed (it was uploaded by someone not affiliated with APD in 2018), but it seems to have been done in the last few years and features a lot of footage of training leaders cursing out cadets for shortcomings.

In the video, officers justify the abuse, saying that part of being a good cop is being able to cope with stress. This is definitely true, but I think a more appropriate test of dealing with stress is how you respond to abuse from non-officers. I don’t care if you can stand there while your boss heaps insults on you. Does that teach you how to resolve a tense situation as peacefully as possible? Does that teach you how to gain the trust of the people you’re serving?

Interestingly, one of the cadets undergoing training in this video is Jeremy Bohannon, who is now an APD recruiter. For what it’s worth, Bohannon’s Twitter is focused on community-minded policing. One recent tweet stressed a person’s right not to consent to a search and another lauded patrol supervisors “who question and cancel ambiguous 911 calls which lead to unneccesary profiling by proxy.”

This is just a small sample of what you get EVERY weekday if you subscribe to the Austin Politics Newsletter

Leave a Reply