APD aims to diversify ranks to become more like the city it serves

An APD officer drives her patrol car through Austin on June 15, 2017. (KXAN/Chris Davis)
An APD officer drives her patrol car through Austin on June 15, 2017. (KXAN/Chris Davis)

AUSTIN (KXAN) — As the Austin Police Department prepares to graduate its 136th cadet class next week, the agency continues to work toward diversifying its ranks.

Department recruiters are hopeful that by the end of the year, they will have filled the 109 vacancies in APD’s ranks; a cadet class with 70 recruits finishes on June 23, and another class with 101 current cadets that started last month should finish up by December.

But the demographics in the department, both in race and gender, don’t match up with those of the city. APD wants to change that, but the numbers show there’s a long way to go until the department looks like the city it serves.

“I work on a shift with nine other officers, which are all male,” Officer Veneza Bremner said, cruising city streets in her patrol SUV. “I’m the only female on the shift.”

Bremner’s shift is a snapshot of APD as a whole: Only about 10 percent of uniformed officers are women. “Ever since I’ve been a police officer, that’s been about the number,” the 17-year APD veteran said. “It’s stayed about that percentage.”

“The first five are asking about your age, your date of birth, your sex, your race,” Officer Myeshia Francis-Parker said, reading through the list of questions on APD’s online application. After 11 years on patrol, she moved to the department’s recruiting office where she’s worked for the last seven.

As is typical for someone who works in house with that division, she pulls 10-15 applications a day to review. “As I’m working these I’m looking to see if there’s any type of concerns we have or any type of disqualifiers,” like felonies or drug use.

Of the 15-or-so applications she pulled Wednesday, she said, all of the potential officers were male and most were white.

“Of course I always want to see more females in this field,” she said. “But it is a tough field.”

And the demographic challenges for department recruiters don’t stop with gender.

APD wants to look like the city it serves, but right now it kind of doesn’t. The city is about 48 percent white, but APD is close to 70 percent white. The department is also only about 20 percent Hispanic, while census data show Austin is around 35 percent Hispanic.

Asian officers represent just under 2 percent of APD in a city where that group makes up 7.5 percent of the population. African Americans are well-represented on the force, with a little more than 8 percent of officers in a city that’s a little more than 7 percent black.

“It’s always good to have representation of every person” in the community, Officer Bremner said.

With the number of cadets expected to finish the police academy by the end of the year exceeding the number of vacancies, the question is how many of the new hires will help balance out the demographics.

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