More than two years after launching a reformed version of its cadet training, the Austin Police Department is making strides toward improving its academy culture with a modernized curriculum.

A status report on the academy was provided to City Council on Oct. 16 by auditors with Kroll Associates, the firm that's been monitoring various aspects of APD operations for years. The briefing followed a formal review of Austin's 148th cadet class that found police department leaders are now sticking to many of the improvements proposed by Kroll, while some deficiencies remain.

The specifics

Kroll consultants' latest audit focused only on Austin's 148th cadet class that ran from late January into September. Reviewers found the APD was all caught up or making progress on a majority of the 30 different audit benchmarks set in the review, although some are still being met with internal resistance or lacking progress.

Mark Ehlers, Kroll's engagement lead for its work with the city, especially credited police leadership for the involvement of Austin community members and subject matter experts in various pieces of cadet training.

“In our judgment, collectively, these sessions and activities have allowed the cadets to gain valuable perspectives from a broad range of community representatives while also allowing them to learn about community resources at their disposal and more accurately connecting policing with community service," he said.

Other signs of progress were tracked across areas such as the APD's de-escalation training and shift away from a "paramilitary" culture, the physical preparedness and treatment of cadets, academy diversity and civilian involvement.

However, Kroll monitors also noted an ongoing "imbalance" between sworn APD staff and civilians involved in training. That previously identified finding particularly related to the work of former Academy Division Manager Anne Kringen, given reports that her authority was routinely challenged by some police instructors.

Kroll analysts said that situation led to "inertia and frustration," partially prompting Kringen's resignation this spring.

Kroll's Dan Linskey, a former Boston Police Department leader, said strained civilian-police relationships have been common in similar initiatives nationwide, have "waxed and waned" throughout Austin's reimagined academy process and are still being considered.

“There was tension there, and there was a gap for sure," he said. "It looks like the gap has been bridged, somewhat, and it looks like it’s going forward to continue to get in a better place with the next version of the rollout of the civilian positions that are being hired.”

Kringen's successor will serve in the newly created police academy curriculum management position, reporting directly to academy rather than APD leadership. That role remains unfilled.

Other areas of improvement highlighted by Kroll include the professional development and review of academy instructors, and the maintenance of an academy video library.

What they're saying

Under a slightly new structure and with continued monitoring, APD leadership told City Council members they're committed to the reformed training program and addressing the shortcomings the Kroll team had pointed out.

“While we have made substantial progress, let us all not forget that our work is not yet complete. Our processes will be regularly reviewed and updated as we strive for continuous improvement," said Commander Wade Lyons, who now oversees the academy program.

Interim police Chief Robin Henderson also said officials are invested in seeing through “a very large culture shift” at the academy while still contending with "tremendous losses" at the APD. She said the pace of new cadet hiring is still not keeping up with attrition on the police force.

Council member Alison Alter said she still hopes to see better results in areas where the APD may be lagging, and more thorough updates on individual cadet classes going forward. Additionally, she said appreciated seeing signs of progress detailed in Kroll's latest report in areas like de-escalation, trauma-informed care, and focusing on mental health and cadet safety.

“There are pieces that do feel a bit like a repeated record and that’s frustrating, but I do want to also recognize that with this report we are seeing some clear progress on certain elements," she said. "I want to acknowledge that and celebrate that because they are some of the things that we really cared about."

By the numbers

The APD's 148th training cohort started with 34 cadets and eventually graduated 19 officers. The 15 separations—44% of the original class—was the second-highest rate of attrition over the past eight years. Among those who departed:
  • 10 cited personal reasons, such as a decision to follow a different career path
  • Two failed academic testing
  • One failed tactical testing
  • One left due to a pre-existing injury
  • One was terminated after withholding information from a background investigation
Seven of the former cadets identified as white, six were Hispanic, one was Black, and one was Asian. Eleven were male, and four were female.

Kroll's report noted that the class's diversity was affected by those exits. However, analysts also cautioned the small class size rendered any takeaways as "statistically insignificant."

The backstory

Scrutiny of the APD academy is continuing years after the city's police training was halted and eventually rebooted with a goal of reforming curriculum and culture.

Results to date have been mixed. The revamped academy has produced dozens of new officers since 2021 through a training program that involved new levels of community involvement and new consideration of certain topics and training. However, the “reimagined” process has also been marked by concerns over persistent resistance to change by some at the APD, the limited effectiveness of civilian review, and dwindling recruitment numbers as vacancies at the police department remain high.

What's next

Kroll's reporting on police department practices and training will continue.

Dozens of trainees remain enrolled at the academy. The next full cadet classes, which combined now include 74 of their original 83 members, are expected to graduate in late December and in April.