A new U.S. Department of Justice report says the way Austin police classify force incidents allows “far too much gray area in which some serious complaints may be minimized or disposed informally” without enough investigation, reports the Austin American-Statesman. Austin police should strengthen how they review incidents in which officers use force and create ways to make sure supervisors and others are properly evaluating such encounters, the Justice Department says.
The report said the department should make clear when weapons such as pepper spray and techniques such as choke holds should be used, and it recommends that all officers be trained in de-escalation techniques. Jim Harrington of the Texas Civil Rights Project, which had helped seek the federal inquiry, said, “All I can say is, ‘Wow.’ It is pretty much an indictment of the way things used to be and is a blueprint for what needs to be done yet.” Police Chief Art Acevedo will name a team of commanders to begin putting the more than 150 recommendations in place, after which he hopes to get a “clean bill of health” from the Justice Department. The department could have faced more serious federal mandates to put recommendations in place or face a federal lawsuit. Such was the case after federal authorities found civil rights violations by the Detroit Police Department in 2003. Detroit was required to stop improperly detaining witnesses in murder cases.