AUSTIN - A degree program being developed at the University of Texas' School of Social Work is hoping to reduce the number of deadly police encounters.
"We want to ground our students in psychology, in abnormal psychology, we want to ground our students in cultural differences," said Dr. Mike Lauderdale, criminal justice professor at UT. He added the School of Social Work will offer a degree in Public Safety within a year.
UT currently does not have a criminal justice program that leads to a degree. Lauderdale said that is because criminal justice only focuses on areas like how to execute an arrest, how to bring a suspect into submission and criminal law compared to civil law. He added it is time to elevate officers' education to reflect the high level of education in the city they serve.
The City of Austin had several violent events over the weekend, including a murder in northeast Austin, several stabbings and a suicide by cop. Lauderdale's current research shows unsettling information about safety on campus and in the city.
"Our findings to date are that safety is declining and it's declining in many ways simply because we don't have enough police officers," he said.
APD has experienced an officer shortage for several years now, which Lauderdale believes may be contributing to the deadly encounters , like Sunday's suicide by cop incident.
Police say 26-year-old, Micah Jester, was approaching officers with a weapon and saying, "Shoot me, shoot me, kill me." They also said she repeatedly ignored officers' commands. That weapon in her hand turned out to be a bb gun.
Deborah Lindeman and Richard Smith, the officers that were involved, both have been with the department for three years. They are on paid administrative leave pending an outcome by the department's Special Investigations Unit, Internal Affairs Unit, the Travis County District Attorney's Office and the Office of the Police Monitor. A grand jury will decide if the officers face any criminal charges.
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