In light of the deadly racist terrorism in Charlottesville, and the police response that seems to have exacerbated it, I’m bumping up this post on law enforcement and the increasing violence from racist/alt-right/pro-Trump supporters at protests:
I’m fortunate to live in Austin, Texas, with a rich history of activism and ready access to elected officials. Since the election of November 2016, I’ve protested racists and Neo-Nazis, Islamophobia, misogyny, tax fraud, racism, and climate change denial; I’ve helped with safety on marches, rallies, lobbying events, and townhalls; I’ve used tactical non-violence skills on campuses, at City Hall, the state Capitol, and the offices of Congressmen. I’ve learned a lot about crowd management, dealing with DPS troopers, and how to use a walkie-talkie. I’ve also learned a great deal about my own strengths and weaknesses in the high-energy, sometimes high-conflict setting of civic activism. I’ve learned that anyone can do this work, but it’s a lot easier if we pool our knowledge. So here, in no specific order, are some tips for others interested in, or already doing, work to keep civic protest as safe and free of violence as possible.
For those of you who signed our letter to APD, here’s the email I sent today to every member of the Austin City Council, plus the Mayor:
Dear [Council Member or Mayor X],
On January 2nd, I sent the attached letter, co-signed by 31 Austin community members, to Austin Police Chief Art Acevedo. The letter requests some information, and an open dialogue, on the type and amount of de-escalation training APD officers receive.
As of today, we have received no reply to this letter. As the letter states, we feel that the issue of police use of force is an important one for our community, and we believe that an open conversation on this topic will help us collaboratively reduce violence and build mutual trust among all Austinites. We are asking for your help in encouraging Chief Acevedo and the Austin Police Department to respond to our initial requests for information, and begin a conversation on a topic that is becoming increasingly important nationally as well as locally.
Thank you for all you do to help keep Austin a safe and just place to live.
The body and signatories of the original letter were appended.
I’ll keep people apprised of any response. Our next level of amplification will be contacting local media, which doesn’t strike me as a particularly soul-enriching activity, but we’ll do it if necessary.
In light of recent events, I’m gathering signatures on a letter that will go to Austin Police Chief Art Acevedo, asking about the amount and type of de-escalation training our local police receive. This is the first step in what I hope will be a public conversation about police training and tactics, and their role in community violence. I’m convinced that the lack of high-quality training in de-escalation skills is a big factor in excessive-force incidents involving police. Insufficient training in this area places officers as well as citizens at risk; thus, police departments that don’t take de-escalation training seriously are demonstrating a failure of leadership.
If you’d like to take local action to reduce violence involving law enforcement officials, please feel free to use this letter as a model.
NB: I’ve created this post, on my web site, for people interested in pressing for good quality de-escalation training for law enforcement personnel. If you don’t think that’s an appropriate course of action–for whatever reason–go write about your feelings on your own website. Do not post your opinions here. Any comments that I feel do not promote healthy discussion will be summarily deleted–though I reserve the right to screenshot them in draft form in order to publicly humiliate the poster on social media if I see fit.
To: Art Acevedo, Chief of Police
Austin Police Department
715 E. Eighth St.
Austin, TX 78701
Dear Chief Acevedo,
We write to you in a spirit of collaboration, hoping to open a dialogue about how we can reduce violence in the community where we all live and work.
In the wake of recent police shootings in Ferguson, Missouri; Cleveland, Ohio; New York City; and elsewhere in the United States, we have grown increasingly concerned about the frequent use of force by law enforcement personnel. In many cases, police seem to use lethal force when it is not warranted. Too often, this has led to tragic results.
The Austin Police Department itself was, as recently as 2011, investigated by the U.S. Department of Justice; we understand that one of the resulting recommendations from the DOJ involved identifying training issues that would minimize the use of force by APD personnel. We are concerned that police officers across the country, and in our own community, receive inadequate training and practice in de-escalation methods. In an effort to understand how the Austin Police Department prepares its officers for the responsible use of force while on duty, we are seeking the following information:
How many hours of training, initially and continuing, do APD officers receive in the following areas:
Firearms – We would like to know what initial training is required before officers are permitted to carry a firearm on duty, the minimum training and practice required in order for them to continue carrying their firearm, and the amount and type of training they typically receive in addition to that minimum.
Non-lethal force – Tasers, beanbags, pepper spray, etc. Again: How are officers initially prepared to use these methods, and how much regular practice and training do they receive thereafter?
De-escalation tactics – Again, we are interested in both initial and recurring training in crisis intervention, recognizing mental health issues, tactical disengagement (non-intervention), specific verbal de-escalation tactics, physical de-escalation tactics (e.g., non-confrontational body language), active listening, and related skills.
We are particularly interested in the amount of dedicated, scenario-based practice time officers receive for each area. If force option simulators are used, we would also like to know the ratio of violent to non-violent outcomes they are programmed to simulate.
We are seeking this information not in order to provoke confrontation or to cast blame. Rather, we genuinely seek to understand how the men and women who are charged with protecting our lives and property are prepared for that important and difficult work. We feel that an informed, respectful conversation on this topic is the best way to achieve our common goal of public safety.
I’ve been working on my next McSweeney’s column and realized I forgot to post the last one. Here it is: Control Freaks.
If, in discussing “appropriate” use of force, we reduce every violent police encounter to the moment the first blow is struck, we willfully ignore all the other what-if moments leading up to it, all of which offer much better opportunities for intervention and safe resolution. Shooting bad guys may sound more fun and exciting, but I don’t see why people should die just because our collective attention spans are too short to think about the problem in larger terms.