Austin police cadet academy review notes positive strides but says instructors lack buy-in to 'reimagined' concept

Photo off APD sign
Austin's police cadet academy was relaunched this spring under the condition of a continuing review of the training process. (Ben Thompson/Community Impact Newspaper)

Austin's police cadet academy was relaunched this spring under the condition of a continuing review of the training process. (Ben Thompson/Community Impact Newspaper)

Months after the Austin Police Department's cadet academy relaunched with targeted reforms and training adjustments, an independent consultant said the academy was moving in the right direction but still needs more buy-in from instructors to achieve a true culture shift.

The academy has previously fallen under scrutiny and was eventually paused due to allegations of a toxic and racist culture. It was restarted in line with Austin's ongoing initiative to re-evaluate public safety. Austin City Council's May vote to reboot the academy came with the condition that the program would remain under review through its run.

Independent consulting firm Kroll & Associates has evaluated academy practices and results since APD’s 144th cadet class began training in June, measuring the program’s success in addressing issues of racial and gender equity, emphasizing on de-escalation tactics and other efforts. On Oct. 21, representatives from the firm presented findings from a formal report on the revamped academy’s first four months.

“The academy is making positive strides and shifting to a more balanced, resilience-based training model. Overall, however, a military-style culture still prevails at the academy with an emphasis on disciplinary measures and collective accountability,” said Rick Brown, a representative from Kroll & Associates.

Brown and his colleagues said APD has successfully implemented new features, including heightened community engagement and racial equity training. They also praised instructors’ knowledgeable and positive approach to teaching de-escalation tactics that minimize the use of force.


However, despite police Chief Joseph Chacon’s repeated emphasis on the academy’s shift away from militaristic- or warrior-style training, Kroll analysts found those values still persist overall. And even with the new academy's place in Austin’s “reimagining public safety” push initiated last year, Brown said a survey of cadets showed more than 54% of cadets reported their APD instructors had “ridiculed” the concept of a reformed police academy in training. More than 91%, though, said instructors place a positive emphasis on community engagement and community policing.

“While we cannot realistically expect complete culture change in the first 15 weeks of the academy, it is essential that the department and officers who train future officers accept and buy into the changes that are needed,” Brown said.

Kroll also determined the academy needs to involve more outside subject matter experts in certain topics; for instance, Brown said researchers and academics could provide important perspective on racial profiling by teaching cadets to analyze data and understand how it reflects decision-making.

Chacon said he was proud of the progress noted in Kroll’s report and was taking seriously the firm’s suggestions for improvement.

“I was concerned when I first heard reports that instructors were mocking the reimagined academy. However, my team is in the process of developing a strategic plan that will go out late in the next three to five years for making progress so that all training is aware of what the term [reimagine public safety] represents in a real kind of measurable way, and I believe that clarity will lead to full buy-in by all staff,” Chacon said.

Mayor Steve Adler also emphasized he wanted “conceptual clarity” of the reimagining public safety platform among academy staff and cadets to be a priority.

“That’s a concern because if we’re running into resistance, a lot of other stuff might never take seed or ever take hold,” Adler said.

Out of the current cadet class, which started with 100 cadets, 24 have separated from the program, most for reasons including physical or classroom performance, injury or COVID-19. The lone termination was due to an allegation of leaving out information in a background check. Those separations have impacted the diversity of the class with Black cadets declining from 17% to 15.5% and female cadets dropping from 18% to 15.5% of the class.

The latest Kroll analysis also included eight new recommendations to better the academy going forward, seven of which APD agrees with outright and one which the department is still studying. Among the suggestions are an expansion of video instruction partially held up by the citizen review process and various scheduling, facility and leadership clarifications or improvements.

APD said a proposal to expand cadet ride-outs with existing officers toward the end of their training is a "high priority" for future classes but remains under consideration as APD considers staffing availability and other factors.
By Ben Thompson

Austin City Hall Reporter

Ben joined Community Impact Newspaper in January 2019 after graduating with a degree in journalism from Northeastern University in Boston. After spending more than two years covering in The Woodlands area, he moved to Austin in 2021 to cover City Hall and other news throughout the city.

By Olivia Aldridge

Reporter, Central Austin

Olivia joined Community Impact Newspaper as a reporter in March 2019. She covers public health, business, development and Travis County government. A graduate of Presbyterian College in South Carolina, Olivia worked as a reporter and producer for South Carolina Public Radio before moving to Texas. Her work has appeared on NPR and in the New York Times.



MOST RECENT

The Austin Trail of Lights will open nighly from Nov. 28 through Dec. 31. (Courtesy Trail of Lights Foundation)
PHOTOS: Austin Trail of Lights returns to Zilker Park this week

The traditional holiday light show is open from Nov. 28 through New Year's Eve.

Commissioners on Nov. 22 voted to approve a density change to preliminary plans for The Preserve, a neighborhood that city documents said could include 565 single-family homes at the northeast corner of Teel and Panther Creek Parkways. (Courtesy city of Frisco)
CI TEXAS ROUNDUP: Neighborhood near PGA Frisco could see larger lots; ERCOT says Texas power grid ready for expected winter demand and more top news

Take a look at the top five trending stories across Community Impact Newspaper’s coverage areas in Texas as of Nov. 24.

Local and state officials have made statements welcoming Samsung to Taylor following the announcement that the city will be home to its new $17 billion semiconductor fabrication plant. (Courtesy KXAN)
State, local officials react to Texas governor, Samsung joint announcement

Local and state officials have made statements welcoming Samsung to Taylor following the announcement that the city will be home to its new $17 billion semiconductor fabrication plant. 

Austin City Council will meet for a work session dedicated to housing affordability discussions Nov. 30. (Community Impact Newspaper staff)
Austin City Hall notebook: Council set for dive into housing, development after Thanksgiving break

A Nov. 30 work session could see city leaders work through a range of adjustments to city development code, rules and processes.

The new initiative will build the communities capacity to address homelessness along with collecting data from people who have increased access to those in need. (Olivia Aldridge/Community Impact Newspaper)
ECHO, St. David's Foundation launch new program to build a community approach to homelessness

The program aims to address inequities in traditional homelessness response.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott sits beside Samsung CEO Dr. Kinam Kim as he announces the company is brining a $17 billion facility to Taylor. (Screnshot via KXAN)
Samsung makes it official: Announcement from Governor's Mansion confirms $17B facility coming to Taylor

Nearly a year after Williamson County officials began pitching Samsung to bring a megafacility to the area, the electronics giant has made it official.

Bill Curci is a chief operating partner for Shuck Me, a seafood restaurant in Fort Worth. (Bailey Lewis/Community Impact Newspaper)
CI TEXAS ROUNDUP: Fort Worth restaurant Shuck Me is fishing- and family-centric; a guide to Houston's 2021 Thanksgiving Day Parade and more top news

Take a look at the top five trending stories across Community Impact Newspaper’s coverage areas in Texas as of Nov. 23.

Dr. Desmar Walkes, Austin-Travis County health authority, discusses Thanksgiving safety at a news conference. (Darcy Sprague/Community Impact Newspaper)
Austin health authorities remind community of COVID-19 risk ahead of Thanksgiving

Austin health officials warned of a high rate of community transmission ahead of Thanksgiving.

Lizzy and Brandon Simon are running the North Austin location. (Courtesy Lizzy Simon)
Operation Turkey to provide thousands in need with Thanksgiving meals

One local couple is running a North Austin site with the goal of serving 2,500 meals to those in need this Thanksgiving.

Williamson County officials met with Samsung executives at Dell Diamond in January. (Courtesy Williamson County)
For the love of the game: How baseball may have been perfect start for Samsung in Williamson County

The first attempt to bring Samsung to Williamson County relied on a passion for what is considered America’s pastime.

Capital Metro is still deciding if it will put the MetroRail Red Line above or below the North Lamar and Airport boulevards intersection. (Jack Flagler/Community Impact Newspaper)
Capital Metro moves forward with funding for one of Project Connect’s ‘most complex’ intersections

The North Lamar Boulevard and Airport Boulevard intersection will eventually have the Red, Blue and Orange lines running through it.