Jun 22, 2021 - 05:54 pm CDT

 

On a sunny afternoon, cadets who are hoping to become Austin’s newest police officers mowed grass, trimmed bushes, and pulled weeds at the Edgar Fincher III Program Garden. Their work helped prepare the garden for the next planting cycle and planted seeds to grow stronger community bonds. 

At the Austin Central Library, a panel discussion leads to two strangers, a community leader and a police cadet to connect over coffee and a conversation about culture and shared values. 

In a powerful and poignant meeting, cadets take their first steps toward learning how to serve survivors of abuse and domestic violence. 

A range of interactions and experiences—with one goal: fostering better relationships between Austin’s next class of Police Officers and the community members they will soon serve. 

The 144th cadet class of the Austin Police Department’s (APD) Police Training Academy began on June 7th, 2021. The 34-week session is a pilot class, the first to complete training using the Police Academy’s new curriculum and expanded community engagement programming as part of the City’s overall Reimagining Public Safety (RPS) initiative.

Community Connect 

The first two weeks of the academy centered around the new Community Connect program which focused on helping cadets get to know community leaders and other residents long before they put on a uniform.  

The range of opportunities included:

  • Community meetings: Members of various communities throughout Austin, with an emphasis on under-represented voices, were asked to meet with the cadets and provide their perspective on issues in their communities and what response they would like to see from APD. 

  • Meet and greet: On June 15th from 4:00-6:30pm APD hosted an informal meeting at Edward Rendon Park where anyone from the community could meet and get to know the new cadet class.  

  • Training with the SAFE Alliance (focused on serving survivors of child abuse, sexual abuse/exploitation, and domestic violence): On June 9th, members of SAFE’s leadership provided an overview of the organization’s efforts, and then its staff trained cadets on trauma-informed care, working with those in the disabled community, and victim services. 

  • Beautification and public space improvement in partnership with the Downtown Austin Community Court (DACC): Cadets worked on projects at seven locations across the City as a part of the community engagement phase of training. Collaborating on these community service projects builds on a longstanding partnership between APD and DACC, serving the community and providing compassionate services for individuals experiencing homelessness.

 
Projects took place across Austin: 
 
  • Landscaping at the Violet KeepSafe Facility which provides individuals experiencing homelessness a secure place to store their belongings.   

  • Twenty cadets completed graffiti abatement work on the pillars on 6th Street, 7th Street, and 8th Street under the Interstate-35 highway.   

  •  Another fifteen cadets assisted with yard clean up and recycling at the Fleet Services Emergency Vehicle Repair Facility on Hargrave Street. 

  • Twenty-five cadets used kayaks to patrol the banks of Lady Bird Lake to remove the trash and debris.  

  • Twenty cadets completed additional park beautification and graffiti abatement work at the Heath Eiland and Morgan Moss BMX Skate Park and the Shoal Creek Trail.   

  • Fifteen cadets worked in DACC’s Edgar Fincher III Program Garden to prepare it for the next planting season. All crops grown in the Garden are donated to local soup kitchens that provide meals for individuals experiencing homelessness. 
APD cadets meet and interact with the community at an event on June 15, 2021

APD cadets met and interacted with members of the community at the June 15th meet and greet.

APD cadets cleaning an I35 underpass

Cadets cleaned an I35 underpass in partnership with DACC.

APD cadets in kayaks remove trash and debris from Lady Bird Lake

Cadets took to kayaks to patrol and clean Lady Bird Lake.

Beyond the scheduled and planned community engagement events, the updated curriculum has already led to deeper connections between cadets and the residents they serve. In one case, a South Asian community leader who spoke to the cadet class extended an open invitation to drop by his home for a cup of coffee and a more intimate discussion about Indian culture. One cadet took him up on it and learned about one of Austin's ethnic communities, all while enjoying an Indian regional delicacy. 

“We want to teach them how to relate to people and how best to communicate and, in many cases, deescalate situations.” Interim Police Chief Chacon said. 

The  pilot class of the Reimagined Academy follows the City Manager’s blueprint which outlines a a collaborative and on-going process of transforming the academy and creating a core focus on community input, emphasizing servant leadership, and curriculum and teaching methods infused with diversity, equity and inclusion.

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