—Officers must now seek approval from their supervisors before they ask to search a person’s home or vehicle. “We believe this will improve and enhance accountability,” Acevedo said. Consent to search a person’s property must be gained in written and videotaped form. The new policy notes that “Officers should be aware that overuse of the consent search can negatively impact the department’s relationship with our community and only request a consent search when they have an articulable reason why they believe” a search will result in evidence.When I saw the headline, I'd hoped the changes would include upgrading the policy on arresting citizens filming police in the line of duty, but certainly these are all significant and positive developments.
—In cases where a suspect is known to be mentally or emotionally disturbed, a minimum of four officers along with a sergeant will be sent to the scene, and at least one of them must be specially trained in handling such issues. Acevedo said this change was spurred by several recent incidents involving violence by homeless suspects and other people with mental health issues. “We will greatly decrease the potential for use of deadly force,” Acevedo said.
—Officers are now barred from placing themselves in the path of a moving vehicle. “What this policy says is, ‘Don’t you create a problem,’” Acevedo said, referring to his officers. Deadly force against the driver of a car is authorized when officers believe the vehicle is being used as a weapon against the officer or other people.
The consent search issue in particular has dogged the city for years and it's good to see it publicly addressed. The department had at one point required written consent for searches at traffic stops. However, that policy was at some point rescinded, then reinstated this summer after the Police Monitor revealed that one in eight traffic stops involving black folks resulted in searches in 2011 compared with one in 28 among white drivers. Requiring supervisors' approval will provide much more accountability.
Noted the Statesman, "Acevedo announced the changes along with Austin NAACP president Nelson Linder and Texas Civil Rights Project Executive Director Jim Harrington. The two previously prompted the U.S. Department of Justice to investigate the police department."