Use of force policy questions tackled by Human Rights Commission

Still from David Joseph shooting dashcam footage (Austin Police Department PHoto)
Still from David Joseph shooting dashcam footage (Austin Police Department PHoto)

AUSTIN (KXAN) — High profile cases in Austin have brought “use of force” policies into question. Monday night, members of the city’s Human Rights Commission looked into whether those policies should be reexamined, ultimately passing a recommendation calling for greater transparency in formulating police policy.

Earlier this month, the city approved a record $3.25 million settlement with the mother of David Joseph, the naked, unarmed teenager shot and killed by an Austin police officer last year.

President of the Austin Justice Coalition (AJC) Chas Moore says it was more than a year ago that they asked the Austin City Council to consider the following priorities for policing in
Austin:

  • Sanctity of all life should clearly guide APD’s use of force.
  • Response should be proportionate to situation.
  • Deescalation first
  • APD can and should hold officers to a higher standard
  • Clearly require officers to promptly render first aid
  • Improve force reporting/data.

“I think it came shortly after David Joseph,” Moore told KXAN. “I think we looked at that case and realized that something else had to be done and implemented within a policy.”

Still from David Joseph shooting dashcam footage (Austin Police Department PHoto)
Still from David Joseph shooting dashcam footage (Austin Police Department PHoto)

Austin Police Association President Ken Casaday was not familiar with the Human Rights Commission’s agenda item related to use of force/response to resistance on Monday, but told KXAN that APD already meets a national standard for use of force, and said officers have extensive training in using the least amount of force necessary.

Moore says it’s important to keep the lines of community with APD open, and collaborate with the department to ask, “Can this work? Or is this more of a training thing as opposed to policy, or is this more of a policy thing as opposed to training?”

Moore called an incident last week, when an officer shot and killed 30-year-old Morgan Rankins, an opportunity to push the conversation forward. Police say she tried to run down three officers and came at one with a knife. Police believe it to be “suicide by cop.” Those close to Rankins say she suffered from a mental illness.

Ashley Normand, the commission member who co-sponsored Monday’s agenda item, said the item isn’t about supporting a certain policy, but a process, encouraging community involvement.

“There should be a system whereby groups, citizens have a say in their policing. And that should be regular, routine, periodic. Not ad hoc,” she told KXAN before the Human Rights Commission meeting. “I think it’s a conversation that’s been percolating over time, but certainly you can’t ignore high profile cases and their ability to motivate persons in power to make changes.”

The Autism Society of Texas said it encourages APD to consider autism-specific training as part of their ongoing Use of Force protocol, saying in a statement, “People with autism may exhibit limited eye contact, repetitive movements or noises, have an obsessive topic or interest, and may not respond when spoken to. They may have severe sensory processing challenges and may exhibit a heightened reaction to contact with law enforcement. While first responders often only have seconds to make decisions about individuals that they come into contact with, we ask that APD take a moment to engage and check for understanding before use of force tactics are implemented.”

Moore says, “It’s a true community effort and I’m glad that the community is coming together on something that’s needed and something that’s very important.”

In a statement, Austin police said, “There is no specific policy as it relates to deescalation. Deescalation is a component of cadet training that is interwoven into every area taught in the Academy. There are also deescalation continuing education training opportunities that are offered to officers throughout their career.”

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