Community trust is a critical element of public safety, and I am committed to working with the Black Austin Democrats and other interested parties to reduce the number of officer-
involved shootings and to address any other concerns regarding ADP or other city departments.
As evidenced by the Citizen Review Committee’s recent audit, we must strengthen accountability and transparency in APD, and address clear gaps in our current system. We have already had too many tragedies.
One area that clearly needs more work is officer training, for both new and seasoned officers, with a focus on effective ways to deescalate tense situations. The goal for officers should be that all residents go home alive at the end of their shifts. Residents should not be viewed as the enemy and reaching for a gun should never be automatic response. Training in de-escalation must be just as frequent and intense as training in using firearms. We also need to ensure that mental health professionals are a routine part of any response to a call that appears to involve a mental health issue.
In addition, the departmental culture must be shifted to emphasize community policing and promote friendly, ongoing engagement with the families and individuals in an officer’s assigned area. Officers should be encouraged to participate in community activities, especially youth programs, whenever possible. Daily positive human interaction between officers and the communities they serve will be essential to building trust and reducing officer-involved shootings. A grant-funded program, Restore Rundberg, showed impressive results with community policing, not only in reduced crime but also with a broad set of goals including improved achievement in the schools. Unfortunately the funding has not been maintained.
Finally, the city must clearly communicate to members of the public how they can report concerns about an officer before hostility escalates to violence. Most officers are peace- loving men and women who are doing their best in a difficult job, but we all know there are unfortunate exceptions, including otherwise good officers who may be going through a period of intense stress such as a death or divorce. If an officer is behaving in a way that causes concern to residents, there must be a clear way to report that concern.
I have a record of focusing a critical eye on issues, policies, projects, and programs that have the potential for overreach, including those involving APD. For example, when I was a council member, APD brought forward a proposal for data collection and analysis that raised serious concerns. I worked productively with the ACLU to stem the proposed overreach, and successfully scaled back the program. And I am proud to have supported the very controversial settlement in the tragic Nathanial Sanders case while on Council. I will continue this focus as mayor.