The Austin Police Department is in transition as many officers left their job over the past year, which left the department understaffed. At the same time, a huge number of recruits are applying to the Austin Police Department academy to fill the ranks.
Austin police Sgt. Anthony Hipolito, one of the 130 officers who left over the past 16 months, gave his perspective. His main reason for resigning had to do with city leaders’ lack of support for law enforcement.
“It was the negativity toward law enforcement,” he said. “I got tired of being kicked down and not feeling supported.”
Former officer Katrina Ratcliff also decided to leave, citing the anti-police attitude among those they serve.
“To those who judge our actions … do more than scream vulgar and repulsive comments in the faces of officers who would sacrifice themselves for you,” Ratcliff wrote. “Have a real conversation and we will condemn illegal and unethical acts with you. We want to make change, too, but we should not all be defined by the poor choices made by bad officers.”
Some officers decided to stay.
Jeremy Bohannon, a Black police officer in Austin, wants to try to change peoples’ opinions about police officers.
“I want to help people understand that policing isn’t the enemy,” Bohannon said, “and help police officers understand that the community isn’t the enemy. There are a lot of people in this community that want policing, that love police officers,” he told The Austin American Statesman.
As many officers left, the department was forced to cut specialized units and to meet the minimum staffing levels for patrols. In addition, emergency response times suffered greatly, with the average response time for shootings and stabbings reaching almost eight minutes.
City officials also cancelled three cadet classes to reform the alleged racist curriculum, thus preventing new recruits from filling the vacancies.
Now, there seems to be light at the end of the tunnel as the Austin Police Department Academy received a whopping 2,000 applications for the cadet class this year.
Indeed, since August, the department has onboarded 88 fresh cadets.
So, what will the future of the APD look like?
The cadet class overrepresents minority demographics in Austin after a national recruiting effort focused on selecting minorities.
The class is 39% Hispanic, while Hispanic residents are 32% of the city’s population; 16% Black, with Black people making up 7% of the population; 41% is white, compared with 47% of Austin residents identifying as white.
Despite the new talent, Interim Chief Joe Chacon said the loss of experienced veterans will hurt the community and the young officers who could benefit from their mentorship.
“We spend a lot of time, money and resources in training and outfitting, mentoring young officers to make sure they are fully ready to become officers in our Austin community,” Chacon said. “To see them leave after a few short years on the job is not what we want.”
During such a transition period, Austin is also experiencing record homicide numbers and violent crime, with 63 homicides so far this year – making it the deadliest year since 1960.