Tuesday, April 13, 2021

Austin PD won't disavow 'paramilitary' culture in its academy; Dallas cops caught using unauthorized facial recognition tech; police reform in Houston hits a dead end; and other stories

Here are a few odds and ends that merit Grits readers' attention while mine is focused elsewhere.

Consultant: Austin PD still embraces 'paramilitary' culture

Austin's police academy retains a "predominantly paramilitary model," consultants Kroll and Associates found, and their training staff lacks diversity. "For the most part, Kroll has found APD reluctant to incorporate a lot of community/civilian input and distrustful of non-police personnel." Changes so far sound largely cosmetic: "there is less one-on-one, in your face stress actions (yelling and screaming), which are now more group focused." Yelling at a group doesn't seem much more pedagogically effective than yelling at an individual, though perhaps it's at least a tad less abusive. "The Academy has modified some past abusive practices, such as 'Fight Day' and Stress Reaction Testing (SRT), in an attempt to reduce cadet injuries, lower the rate of attrition (which disproportionately impacted females and cadets of color), and create an environment more conducive to success and graduation." Fundamentally, though, APD leadership told the consultants they don't agree with critiques of paramilitary approaches to policing and don't intend to change: "APD leadership has expressed its belief to Kroll that a paramilitary structure is an essential component of police culture."

Police reform in Houston appears to hit dead end

This quote accurately sums up the state of police reform in Houston under Mayor Sylvester Turner:

“We haven’t made any meaningful progress since the George Floyd protests, just forget about it,” said Alan M. de León, an organizer with MOVE Texas. “Whether the oversight board, union contract negotiation, or crisis intervention, on no front are we making meaningful progress, and that’s completely disappointing.”

Some are hoping things will change under the new chief:

Those pushing for police reform hope new Police Chief Troy Finner, a native Houstonian who took over Monday, will push reform. Since being appointed in March, Finner has promised to meet with and listen to reformers.

“You could tell he wanted changes to happen,” said Harrison Guy, a police reform task force member who met with Finner twice last year. “I feel like (former chief Art Acevedo) led with a lot of ego, so I felt like he got in the way of a lot of change.”

I don't know Finner but share the hope that he's more reform minded than his predecessor, which is a low bar. For more background, see Grits' extensive coverage of the Houston Mayor's task force from last year. Not by much, but Dallas has done a little better.

SA ballot initiative vs police union contract w/in striking distance

Polling on the May 1st ballot initiative in San Antonio taking aim at eliminating the police union's meet and confer contract show the race to be wide open: 34% in favor, 39% opposed, and more than a quarter undecided, leaving plenty of room for the outcome to swing either way.

Chalk one up for Renee Hall

I've gotta say, the outcome of the examining trial against the Dallas cop accused of hiring a hit man seems to vindicate former Chief Renee Hall. She'd made the decision there wasn't enough evidence to accuse the officer, and though it made big headlines when her successor had him arrested, now a court has agreed. That said, there may be administrative violations that could be pursued even if they can't show he violated criminal statutes. But after all the eye-popping headlines, it looks like criminal charges won't be forthcoming.

A friggin' Ponzi scheme?!

Dallas police announced they suspended an officer for operating a "Ponzi scheme" targeting other officers in which 8-10 others may also have been involved, but so far have released no additional information.

Affidavit: Pointless police pursuit resulted in bystander death

A high-speed chase in Fort Worth that killed an innocent bystander in 2018 “should either never have been initiated or it should have been immediately terminated,” wrote a former Richland Hills police officer in an affidavit unsealed by a Tarrant County district court. Wrote the officer, the suspect being pursued “was not suspected of any specific crime and there were no outstanding warrants concerning him.” The victim's son, a River Oaks police officer, sued the department and, though the suit was recently dismissed, the litigation revealed details indicating the department's policy was inadequate, not followed, and/or both.

False accusation, confession, centered on assault that never occurred

In Bexar County, the Conviction Integrity Unit unearthed a false confession case in which a man pled guilty to an assault that in fact never happened. Your correspondent learned a lot about false confessions when I was policy director at the Innocence Project of Texas. Some of the most complicated, self-incriminating examples arise from family disputes like the one that sparked this story, in which a gay immigrant was accused of assaulting his partner, whom he later married. Witnesses confirmed the alleged assault never occurred. I'm glad this was finally sorted out but it highlights the incalculable damage that can be done by a false confession and the fact that police are largely ill-suited for the role of intervening in domestic disputes beyond preventing immediate violence.

Dallas cops used facial recognition software w/o authorization

Dallas police officers used unauthorized facial recognition software last year to try to track protesters, reported Gizmodo.

The spokesperson, Senior Cpl. Melinda Gutierrez, said the department first learned of the matter after being contacted by investigative reporters at BuzzFeed News. Use of the face recognition app, known as Clearview AI, was not approved, she said, “for use by any member of the department.”

Department leaders have since ordered the software deleted from all city-issued devices.

Officers are not entirely banned from possessing the software, however. No order has been given to delete copies of the app installed on personal phones. “They were only instructed not to use the app as a part of their job functions,” Gutierrez said.
More background from Buzzfeed.

Politicians far behind public opinion in Texas on pot

It's remarkable the extent to which Texas legislators' are SO far behind public sentiment on marijuana. Most Texans support full-blown legalization of recreational pot, like New Mexico just enacted, according to fairly consistent polling results. But all the marijuana bills at the Texas Legislature that are moving are relatively small potatoes. Do I want to see penalties lowered for small amounts? Sure. As my father likes to say, it's better than a sharp stick in they eye. But 15 states have fully legalized recreational weed and, if legislators in Texas cared what their voters think on the matter, the Lone Star State would follow suit.

Out-of-state odds and ends

Finally, here are few items that caught my attention:


Gadfly said...

One of those states on full legalization being neighboring New Mexico. That plus a bill in the OK Lege SHOULD increase pressure on our Lege. Too late for the regular session, but Strangeabbott could be pressured to include it (along with redistricting, of course) in a special session call. More at my site: https://socraticgadfly.blogspot.com/2021/04/more-pressure-on-texas-to-loosen-pot.html

Bad Wolf said...

I see how resistant APD is to change and I have to wonder (repeatedly) why Spencer Cronk doesn't insist on these changes? And if he doesn't, why the City Council doesn't hold him accountable? I mean how hard is it to say "Your fired."?

There seems to be NO accountability with the police, despite how "liberal" Austin is and its very confounding.

I really hope the Council members understand that their learned helplessness on policing issues will drive some folks to vote for a strong mayor in an attempt to get SOME change.