Panel gives insight into Austin’s rocky road to police reform


On Monday, as part of the ongoing “Reforming the Force” series, KVUE Defenders sought answers to community questions at a town hall.

AUSTIN, Texas – Austin’s path to police reform will likely continue to see a mix of success and failure in the months to come, according to a panel of experts, but the city should continue to try to craft a department that will meet the needs of all citizens.

On Monday, as part of the ongoing “Reforming the Force” series, KVUE Defenders sought answers to community questions at a town hall meeting jointly with the Austin American-Statesman.

The panelists were the new Austin Police Chief Joe Chacon, the former Travis County Sheriff and Austin Police Supervisor Margo Frasier, and Paniel Joseph, director of the Center for Race and Democracy of the University of Texas.

In a high-profile conversation, everyone acknowledged that Austin probably hadn’t yet become a national model for police reform – a goal city officials set for themselves last summer – but said it did. could help design new types of policing in the future.

“It’s not something we have a plan for,” Chacon said. “Did we get it right every time? I don’t think we did, but we’re definitely trying to find our way through it.”

Last year, Austin City Council members reduced or reallocated about $ 150 million from the police budget and separated some operations from law enforcement oversight. The budget has since been fully restored due to a legislative mandate, but day-to-day police functions are still a local decision, and the community has yet to decide what they want from a modern police force.

Joseph said that although some fought against the reforms, such opposition is expected.

“We have to remember that the abolition of slavery also shocked people in the 19th century,” he said. “There’s going to be a reaction and we have to remember that. “

Frasier said that while she appreciated the city’s efforts to make the Austin Police Department a national model, she was disappointed that part of the conversation missed important opportunities for unity.

“I was disappointed that we ended up having a lot of one-way communication where people were talking to each other rather than to each other,” she said.

As the city looks to the future, Frasier said she is encouraged that the city is revamping its police academy to make it look less like a military training camp and instead structure it the same way. than university courses.

Joseph said the city should also make recommendations from the city task force to reinvent the police in place, including ending the use of police dogs and not having “self-initiated” calls. by the agents.

Chacon said he is also determined to lead the base throughout the transition, although he is not their preferred candidate for the leadership position.

“I am convinced that I will be able to win the hearts and minds of those who have doubts about me,” he said.

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