Stop The Violence: Community Weighs In On Proposed Changes To Austin Police Policy

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Amid police reform, some Austin police officers left and others stayedMore than 130 officers have left APD since May 2020.Nate Chute, Austin American-Statesman

The public weighed in on proposed changes to the Austin Police Department's use of force policies, with some contending the proposals were unreasonable and others saying the changes could save lives, according to a report released Wednesday.

The report's release concludes the Austin Office of Police Oversight's role in recommending changes to Austin police policy, which the Austin City Council asked for after the summer 2020 protests against excessive use force by police. The ball is now in the court of the Austin Police Department, which will incorporate the recommendations and bring any changes before the City Council.

The report comes as police continue to investigate a weekend shootout in downtown Austin during which an officer fired his gun. The shooting left a teenager dead. 

Michael Carothers, 17, died Saturday morning, a few hours after officers came upon one group of people at Sixth and Sabine streets shooting at another group, Austin police have said.

Officer Glenn Vargas fired his gun during the shootout, but investigators said they're still unsure whether Carothers was struck by the officer’s gunfire or another shooter’s. 

More: How calls to ‘defund the police’ took Austin to a crossroads of police reform

Police have not yet announced any arrests or suspects in the case, although investigators said officers detained one person other than Carothers soon after the shooting.

Vargas is on administrative leave while concurrent internal and criminal investigations take place, which is standard procedure after an Austin police officer is involved in the use of deadly force. The shooting was captured on Vargas' body camera, and officials said they plan to release the video within 10 business days.

In crafting its recommendations, the Austin oversight office used the "8 Can't Wait" campaign to help shape proposed changes. The "8 Can't Wait" movement demands eight policy changes — such as a ban on chokeholds and requiring de-escalation during interactions — be implemented in police forces across America. The campaign arose from the Black Lives Matter movement to reduce excessive violence in police encounters.

The Austin office in January ultimately advocated for changes to six sections of Austin police policy, advising officers to only use deadly force as a last resort and to warn before shooting. They also recommended the Police Department encourage de-escalation. 

Story continues below.

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In May, the oversight office gathered community feedback on the recommendations through virtual events and a survey, receiving about 1,400 surveys. 

Respondents seemed fairly split on the issues, with 52% saying police should use all available alternatives before using deadly force and 61% saying policies should acknowledge factors that could affect someone’s ability to follow orders, such as a disability, a mental health condition or fear.

“Police have to make split-second decisions,” one unnamed respondent wrote. “If someone points a gun at an officer, the officer is justified in shooting. If you don’t commit crimes, you are not going to get yourself in a bad situation. If you fight an officer while being arrested, you are responsible for the possibility of being shot!”

“Police should have every possible tool to STOP a suspect from endangering the public,” wrote another person quoted in the report. “Disarming or mandating a set of procedures will lead to injury or death of police or innocent bystanders.”

Others said Austin police policies need to change.

“Our Austin community deserves more respect and consideration of preserving life at all costs. ... There are too many police-involved shootings in our Austin community," one person wrote. "Let's stop the violence.”

"De-escalation techniques should always be used. ... Nurses use them, social workers use them, I use them," wrote another person, whose profession was not cited in the report. "More training in this area could go a long way.”

However, 80% of people agreed that police who witness another officer use excessive force and do not interfere should be required to report the full circumstances of the incident.

"Far too many of APD's policies are unclear and unaligned with national best practices in policing," Office of Police Oversight Director Farah Muscadin said. "Our goal was to provide an opportunity for community members to share their concerns about APD's use of force policies and better align policies with community expectations and best practices."

Source : https://www.statesman.com/story/news/2021/10/14/community-comments-oversight-reforms-austin-police-policy/8436138002/

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