AUSTIN, Texas — On Friday, the Austin Police Department hosted a press conference to discuss the findings of its after-action report regarding the 2020 protests.
Starting in May after the death of Houston man George Floyd in Minneapolis, protesters gathered around the nation as part of the Black Lives Matter movement against police brutality. Here in Austin, protestors also marched for Mike Ramos, a man who was fatally shot by Austin police.
During the Austin protests, a swarm of demonstrators surrounded the Austin Police Department headquarters downtown and eventually overtook Interstate 35, bringing traffic to a standstill. During the protests, numerous demonstrators were shot by police using less-lethal beanbag rounds.
Injuries sustained by those rounds sparked a flurry of lawsuits against the department. Since then, the City of Austin has handed out millions to the injured in settlement rewards. Nearly two dozen police officers have also been indicted on charges related to their use of force.
According to police, the report's goal was to assess department strengths as well as opportunities for improvement. The APD said it also reflects changes made to department policy, training and structure.
"These protests, a direct result of the deaths of George Floyd and Mike Ramos, changed from mostly peaceful crowds into violent gatherings, which escalated into criminal acts and injured protest participants and officers, and destroyed property," the APD said in a press release. "The protests outside police headquarters, which led to officers' direct response and mobilization, were unlike any this city or department had seen."
The report directly identifies 17 "critical areas of analysis" and lists problem identification, findings, recommendations, and subsequent implementation of improvements. The APD said the key areas the department has concentrated improvements on include:
- "De-escalation techniques and training: APD has revamped its training efforts to ensure that all officers are thoroughly and regularly trained in effective de-escalation techniques for various situations. These techniques include active listening and clear verbal communication, maintaining a safe distance; explanations of actions needed and any consequences; and securing additional resources. This training occurs in cadet training as part of our new Academy model and during in-service training with our current officers."
- "Improvements to Mobile Field Force: APD's deployment of department resources highlighted a need for regular and ongoing MFF, crowd management, and riot control training for all officers. The clarified process and training were highlighted when in early May 2022, large-scale protests occurred in Austin related to the Supreme Court decision affecting Roe v. Wade. APD was poised and prepared to effectively support the citizens of Austin in their efforts to participate in safe demonstrations free of property destruction and violence."
- "Training for an integrated response within various APD units: In the early days of the 2020 protests, all APD personnel were on tactical alert and required a great deal of collaboration with the Department's Special Response Team (SRT) and with one another. Not everyone was familiar with SRT's responsibilities, duties, procedures, or other specialized units, making a coordinated response more challenging. APD now conducts integrated, Department-wide training across the various specialized response units. These collaborative joint operations training allow the different tactical response units to familiarize themselves with the roles and capabilities of the other units and be better prepared for a thorough and efficient rollout of MFF in the future."
"I feel confident in releasing this report and its inclusion of implementation steps for each focus area," said Chief Joseph Chacon. "We have accomplished much in the past two years and fully recognize we have much more to achieve."
Police noted that the review and analysis of the protests have been ongoing since the summer of 2020.
"From the beginning of the protests and riots, APD has been working to identify problem situations and responses so that more effective strategies could be employed," the press release states. "It's essential to note that APD recognizes that the less-lethal beanbag munition did not perform as expected, which resulted in unintended injuries. Once this became apparent during the 2020 protests, APD leadership prohibited using less-lethal beanbag shotguns. This action demonstrated the department's ability to adapt to evolving circumstances."
The department also noted how officials worked "relentlessly under arduous conditions enduring substantial abuse" amid the protests, adding that officer "dedication and professionalism demonstrated a steadfast commitment to service and public safety."
Police said the department has already begun implementing several of the changes identified in the after-action report.
"I can promise you that we will never see another response similar to the one in summer of 2020," Chacon said during Friday's press conference. "The way that we have changed our policies, our training and the cross training that we're doing across the department will ensure that we are better prepared, better trained, better equipped than we've ever been before."
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