The Austin American-Statesman, the daily newspaper in Texas’ capital, has responded to criticism from the weekly Austin Chronicle, over a series in the daily concluding that between 1998 and last year, African Americans in the city were 100 percent more likely to be met with force than were whites in contact with police. The series said that Hispanics were 25 percent more likely than whites to be subjected to force.
In a column, Editor Rich Oppel asserted that the Chronicle analysis, which was summarized last Friday in Crime & Justice News, “makes errors of fact repeatedly, including claiming that the [Austin Police Department–APD] between Oct. 31, 1998, and May 11, 2003, made 553,194 arrests. Fact: APD made 265,579 arrests during that period (as we reported).” Oppel asserted that the Chronicle “provided the figure for charges, not arrests. Often one arrest involves multiple charges.” The Chronicle is standing by its reporting.
Oppel also accused some critics of not reading the series carefully. “So, when are you going to publish, on the front page, the fact that minorities are 40 percent more likely to be violent? When?” asked “Bobby F.”
Replied Oppel: “We did – on the first day, Jan. 25, on the first page, at the top of the story. We reported that ‘minorities were 40 percent more likely to be involved in violent crimes than whites.’ If you want to read the series, go to statesman.com/unequalforce.”
The daily also describes exercises in which officers are tested in tense situations. A decade ago, most training on traffic stops ended with an officer being shot or hurt — even those involving elderly women drivers. Today, training officers stress that few traffic stops turn violent. Officers are nonetheless taught that one of the most dangerous things they do is walk up on a vehicle. They have no way of knowing who or what awaits inside.
Cadets are trained to use a seven-step approach in which an officer identifies himself; tells the driver why he is being stopped; identifies the driver using the license and gets proof of valid insurance; tells the driver he will get a warning or ticket; writes the ticket; explains that the violator must pay a fine, dispute it in court or take defensive driving; and finally, sends the driver on his way.
Cadets spend weeks on drills and in classrooms learning traffic codes and the correct way to stop motorists before they go out in the field to test those skills. The focus of many drills is on a cadet’s ability to communicate with the public — another big shift from past training.