Thu, Jun 30, 2022

Kroll's Security Concepts Podcast

Kroll’s Enterprise Security Risk Management subject matter experts have come together, alongside special client guests, to host a podcast series discussing the world’s most pressing security challenges.
Episode 18
Police Reform: An Interview with Austin Police Chief Joseph Chacon

Kroll was tasked by the City Manager’s Office to review the Austin Police Department (PD) on the extent to which forms of racism, bigotry and discrimination were present in the protocols, practices and behaviors of the Austin PD. In this episode, Kroll’s Daniel Linskey and Chief Joseph Chacon from the Austin PD discuss how this review has led to updates to programs and police training that have placed the Austin PD at the forefront of modern policing.

Passages from the Episode

A New Approach to Police Training

“Chief, you changed Austin from the full military style bootcamp. However, I think you and your staff recognized the need to train police officers for the stressful events that they're going to be in. While some of the formality went away, and I think initially, some of the concern was that we were going to change and these cadets were not going to experience any stress at all, but in fact, you guys balanced it well with role play scenarios that are real life. Putting cadets in stressful situations, getting their Amygdala hijacked with cortisol and adrenaline, getting auditory exclusion, and tunnel vision going on, and having them experiencing that in the academy. So, I don't want people to think that your cadets weren't stressed at all. It's that you balance both. You let them focus on the academics in the classroom and put them in stressful situations in scenarios and role plays that were taken right from the streets of Austin, from things they might face, and prepare them for both worlds.” – Daniel Linskey

“Yeah. I think that's a great point, Dan. And really, it was a balance. Because even as we said that we were going to be transitioning from this military boot style type of a training environment that you're describing to one that was more of an adult learning environment, we still needed to maintain certain elements that still continue to instill discipline. It is an almost paramilitary type of profession in that, there's rank structure and that you need good discipline in a job, because you're going to be challenged all the time by citizenry, and in those really tough calls that officers have to take. The scenario-based training that we do out there, is very realistic. You’re working with live actors, solving problems and putting the things that you have learned throughout the academy to the test, to make sure that you're mastering those skills.”

“So, it is a very stressful environment. I don't want anyone to think this is a college campus—it's really not. You’re still doing defensive tactics, firearms proficiency, driving training and scenario-based training. You have to be able to demonstrate the ability to diffuse a situation, essentially just using your words. It can be a very stressful environment, but it's also a very rewarding one. I think that as people come out of that environment and they graduate and move on to the police department, they are certainly much better for it.” – Chief Joseph Chacon

“I know when we started to do our interviews and were looking at what was going on at the PD at the time, and then our thoughts and ideas, along with staff and community and the leadership, on what we could change, there was some skepticism, as you said. Cops hate two things. They hate change, and they hate the way things are. And I remember having a conversation where one of the police officials we were talking to said, well, I don't like this idea that you're going to change the academy in this negative manner. And I said, well, what's the negative manner? Well, you're getting rid of the way we do it and the skills they need in the street."

“I said, well, we actually had recommended that we do more physical fitness for the cadets, so they were in better physical shape. So that they're less likely to use force. And they're likely to use force effectively, when they're better physically fit. Do you disagree with better physical fitness? Oh, no. We agree with that. Well, we disagree with you guys telling them, no more stress at the academy. And we said, no. We actually think stress is a good thing. And adding more role-play scenarios.”

“And in fact, including more defensive tactic time. Again, to improve those skillsets that hopefully cops can use in the de-escalation training. But if you do have to go hands-on, going hands-on effectively and quickly, will lead to better outcomes for the officers, the community and for the person involved. And then they're like well, we don't disagree with that. And just letting people know exactly what you guys were doing and getting out of the rumor mill. And the reality setting in is that, we were actually listening to their voices. A lot of the changes came from staff and cadets we talked to. Saying that, this is how we think we can improve it. And I think your team was very good of taking the good and mixing the feedback for the new class.” – Daniel Linskey

“I think that's a great point, Dan. It goes back to what I was talking about, with the communication piece. I think if you can de-mystify what it is that we're doing, and have people just really understand that this is not really a criticism of the way that you were doing before, but more about, let's continue to evolve and get better.”

“Taking the feedback, and being able, where possible, to institute that feedback, is just huge, because then, you have the buy in into the whole program. I feel like that's what we did. We're a lot closer to this full evolution that we've been striving for, than we were obviously when we started the last class. But there's still work to be done. We still have classes that we have to review, to make sure that we're being very intentional looking at each class for diversity, equity and inclusion and for de-escalation. Getting through the entire curriculum, and then, making sure that we've got the right instructors and really, the right mindset at the academy.” – Chief Joseph Chacon

Diversity in Recruiting

“I was a 19-year-old kid, when I graduated from the police academy. To find myself back at age 55, sitting in the Austin Police Academy on day one with those cadets, I was thinking, wow to do it all over again, this would be great. But what was really impressive, and kudos to your recruiting team, was the diversity you had in the class.”

“I think there were people from four countries. There were cadets from, I counted 15 or 16 states. Different language skills. Different lifestyles. Members of the LGBTQ+ community. Former police officers. You were able to recruit and attract police officers from several jurisdictions, to come into your class. What's the secret of that success? Because police departments across America, are trying to recruit. And recruiting was hard before, to get diverse candidates to a police academy. It's even harder now, when a lot of folks are looking at policing as something they maybe don't want to spend their career in. But your team hit it out of the park.” – Daniel Linskey

“I think it has a lot to do with the fact that Austin is a destination city, at this point. It's just a really cool city to live in, to raise a family and have a career in. So, we're lucky we're blessed. We pay our officers very competitively. So, the pay is pretty decent for the city. As the city continues to grow in popularity and size, the affordability factor is really being strained and the cost of housing continues to go up, like it is in other parts of the country.”

“But we've just been blessed to have a good reputation. And really, that people want to move here and be a part of this organization. So even as the pandemic was going, and even as we've had issues and challenges just like other police departments, our recruiting really has not dropped off that much. We continue to get a pretty healthy stream of individuals that want to keep working here or applying here and trying to get a job here. We're sometimes better positioned than other departments.” – Chief Joseph Chacon

Lessons Learned and Looking Ahead

“So chief, now that you've been through one of these processes, you've upgraded the program. What are the lessons learned? What are the things you're going to take with you, to further develop the training for your officers?” – Jeff Kernohan

“There were actually several lessons that were learned as we went through a pilot class and really, working with Kroll on implementing suggestions. One of the things was, scheduling issues. And just making sure that we weren't asking our cadets to display skills that we haven't even taught them yet. Working with our civilian training manager, Dr. Anne Kringen, on those issues, and really looking at curriculum and making sure that everything is lining out. As well, her and her team are providing feedback to our cadet instructors which are police officers, to make sure that, that instruction is meaningful and that it's appropriate. So, it's this evolution that just keeps on happening.”

“I'll give you an example of one of the things that we had done previously was, one of the toughest blocks of instruction for our cadets to get through, is penal code. It's a very big chapter in our government code. And just really tough. We taught it all in one block. What we've done now is, break that up into smaller, more digestible blocks of instruction. That is actually helping our cadets to learn the material better and achieve passing scores on those written examinations.”

“Finally, what I would probably mention as a lesson learned was, sometime back, we had eliminated ride outs from the training curricula. That is, having our cadets take a break from the regular academy setting, get into a police car with one of our current officers and then have this riding period for a week, where they get to experience what it's like to police in Austin. We really got away from that because we were looking to use that time for other things.”

“And, actually, it was a Kroll recommendation, as well as feedback that we got from our cadets, that they really would like to see that. Because it'd be good to understand what it is to be a police officer in the city of Austin. So, we've reinstalled that into the current cadet class, and they'll be doing a week ride out. Lots of lessons, and those continue.” – Chief Joseph Chacon

“Excellent. Yeah. I've seen quite a bit about some of the new initiatives that you guys are taking to really getting your cadets out there in the community to be better associated with the community. And to allow the community to be better associated with the current and the future police that are going to be out there on the streets. I think it's an excellent program.”

“When we're talking some of the things that you have done, some of the changes that have been made to the curriculum, and to the overall program. An important thing that you as a chief have to obviously monitor is, how's that being received by your own personnel? And really, how's that being received by Austin? What are you hearing as feedback goes, as far as the changes that you're making?” – Jeff Kernohan

“So, the pilot class or the new training paradigm that I'm talking about, started about the middle of 2021. What we noticed right away was, a resistance. Skepticism that was coming from training staff, as well as the rank and file in the department, that were hearing about the changes that were happening in our training academy. I think that any department that goes through this, can expect that they're going to see this. Because, we have been training in a certain way for decades. It was really building up this warrior mindset, for the dangers of the job. And I'm not saying, certainly, that you don't need to prepare officers for those really tough calls, for the dangerous situations, and make sure that they have survival instincts at times. But that is a minority of the time, for them, and a minority of their work.”

“And really, we should be building them in how we can have better outcomes in these really tough and stressful situations. So there has been some changeover of staff, to make sure that we got the people with the right mindset out there. Because we cannot give up on the effort. We've got to continue pushing forward. With really, what is reform police training. A different way of thinking.”

“For our newer cadets, it really has been something they've adapted to very well. I think they have an expectation, that this is how we're going to teach, and as well as our community. Our community has really loved it. The feedback has been pretty tremendous. Just knowing that we're really leaning into this new way of policing and that we're trying to make the police department better and more responsive to our community.” – Chief Joseph Chacon

Key Elements and Advice for Fellow Police Departments

“I've certainly seen that in media coverage. Just in people discussing what's happening there, is Austin always wants to be at the cutting edge of most things and that's what they've always been. So, when they see that they are leading this charge towards this new type of police and this new type of training, and this new type of really management of police force, I think that there's a lot of pride in that. And they're saying that they're getting a lot of benefit out of these new programs.”

“So chief, are there any key elements that you might pass along to other chiefs of place that are looking to develop new types of training curriculum or new types of programs? Are there any key elements that you might pass on to them in that early stage that they should be aware of as they start doing this planning?” – Jeff Kernohan

“Just a couple words of advice, I guess, is first, you've got to be patient. Your culture probably is baked in, like it was here at the Austin Police Department, and it's going to take some time to make culture change. There has to be a determination that you're going to do it and a willingness to stick with it.”

“As you go through that process, you've really got to communicate with your folks. I was in front of my staff and in front of the cadets multiple times throughout the cadet class. Reinforcing the effort, talking about the expectations and just making sure that people are really on board. You got to be willing to make some tough moves sometimes. Even people maybe that have been in your academy for quite some time, that feel that they have property rights to the job but are not willing to get on board with your new program—you have to be willing to move them.”

“Finally, I would just say, you really need to be willing to pivot when you see that you've started something, and it's just really not working, and maybe you need to go in a different direction. We had to do that a couple times, throughout the academy. Sometimes, those moves are a little tough to make. But you've got to be willing to make the tough decisions and to put the organization sometimes, above an individual.” – Chief Joseph Chacon

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