AUSTIN (KXAN) — Austin Police leadership spoke with community members in east Austin Saturday to present the findings of their recent 2016 Racial Profiling Report and to field questions from citizens. The meeting was crowded: nearly ever seat was taken and included at times tense discussion about how race and police policies.
Assistant Chief Frank Dixon with Austin Police said this type of community dialogue is exactly what he was hoping for. The presentation Saturday was for Region 3 which encompasses a large portion of east and south central Austin, which Dixon oversees.
“I want to see all the chairs full when we’re not in times of crisis, this is great turnout,” he said.
Many community organizations were in attendance, as were representatives from the Travis County District Attorney’s office and the Austin Police Monitor’s office.
“I want to hear when we’re falling short on top of when we’re doing a great job, because if we only heard when we’re doing things great then there’s no room for improvement and we can never stop trying to improve,” Dixon said. “So I think the conversations we had to today, they were excellent. I think people left with a better understanding and at the base of it I think we all left for a betting understanding of one another.”
One of the biggest discussion points at the meeting was the percentage of black citizens who are stopped and searched by Austin Police. According to 2015 Census numbers, 9 percent of Austin’s population is black. But in the racial profiling report, the subjects of 12 percent of traffic stops, 31 percent of consent searches, and 23 percent of non-consent searches were black individuals.
Dixon noted that consent searches (searches which do not require a warrant or probable cause but instead officers asking subjects for consent to search) make up roughly one percent of their overall searches. But he said the disparity in the proportion of black individuals who are stopped and searched is a complaint APD addresses every year.
Nelson Linder, the president of Austin’s NAACP said that historically, there has been a disconnect between Austin Police and the black community in Austin which has improved in recent decades. He also wants to see the number of black individuals who are stopped and searched by APD to more proportionately reflect the black population in Austin.
“If you come to these meetings regularly you’re gonna see we have discussions all the time, they want to see better policing less use of force among African Americans, and more transparency,” Linder said. “And [the public] got that today they got some good answers, so I think we’re on the right track here, we just gotta make sure we work on being even better.”
This year, APD broadened their definition on racial profiling to include:
“Any instance of disparate treatment by law enforcement based on race or ethnicity, rather than on the behavior or information identifying the individual as having engaged in criminal activity.”
Dixon said that for those who feel they have been stopped unfairly to tell the APD officer they are dealing with they want to speak with a supervisor immediately. The public can also contact he APD internal affairs division or the Austin Police Monitor’s office with complaints. Dixon added that APD is working toward creating an informational card to hand out at traffic stops to keep citizens aware of their options when it comes to reporting.
APD leaders explained Saturday that one of their focuses in addressing these concerns will be to increase community policing– which is time officers spend getting to know communities they work in as opposed to responding to calls.
“We’re woefully under where we should be as far as community policing,” Dixon said.
A survey in 2016 showed APD that they need to double their efforts when it comes to allotting officers time to connect with their communities. Dixon explained that the need for community policing is complicated by the shortage of officers that APD is experiencing currently.
“It’s important for us in American policing, because we’re in the most scrutinized time we’ve been in since the civil rights era, so bridging that gap between the community, especially the gap between the Black and Hispanic community and the police department is so important,” Dixon said.
APD also addressed unfounded rumors about enforcement at recent events and their policies for checking ID’s and impounding vehicles at traffic stops.