AUSTIN (KXAN) — Just what is the right police response if protests like Ferguson, Missouri, happen here in Central Texas? Local Austin law chieftains believe the keys are establishing community relationships before trouble, and reacting with a measured response.
Austin has had its share of tense moments in recent years, including police shootings that prompted angry neighborhood reactions. But nothing like Ferguson has happened here and there may be reasons why.
“I think the most important thing is to establish relationships beforehand, so that you can turn to community partners to deal with the issue,” said Margo Frasier, Austin police monitor and former Travis County Sheriff.
Frasier said the 2012 police shooting of Ahmede Bradley in Austin was a tense situation but police were able to diffuse it before anything could escalate.
Phone calls by Frasier and others defused that ticking bomb. “Urging them to help us calm folks so that the situation didn’t get out of hand,” she recalls. “Frankly through their efforts things got under control quickly.”
Cedar Park Police Chief Sean Mannix also believes community relationships are vital. In his 20 years within the Austin Police Department, including time as an assistant chief, he remembers near riots along Sixth Street, calmed down by a measured response.
“During those times we had a lot of officers out on the street but they didn’t look like riot cops,” Mannix says. “Once things start to escalate though there comes a time when you have to don protective gear and ensure the safety of the officers.”
Mannix believes departments must take control in certain situations, but not overreact with provocative force. If needed, call on neighboring police departments for help, relying on military forces only as a last resort. The chief also believes it is important for officers to have body cameras and patrol car cams to record any incident. That provides visual proof of events before wild rumors can spread through a neighborhood.
On Thursday evening, people gathered at the Texas Capitol to speak out against police brutality no matter where it happens.
Some held signs reading, “Solidarity with Ferguson.”