Austin police officers will soon get more hand-to-hand physical training as another option to de-escalate potentially volatile situations instead of automatically reaching for the Taser, steel baton (called an asp) or pepper spray.
Chief Art Acevedo's decision comes after a series of high-profile incidents including the shooting death of an unarmed and naked teen in February, an officer's suspension for using her Taser on a handcuffed man in March, and an officer's suspension for using his pepper spray on a handcuffed man, also in March.
"What we're saying is think about the options of being able to go hands on," said Cmdr. Mark Spangler, who oversees APD’s Training Academy in southeast Austin.
He said the two current cadet classes, as well as the new class that starts in November, will soon undergo more physical training. The commander planned for current officers to undergo refresher courses in 2017.
"'Yes, I've told you you're under arrest, I've explained what you're under arrest for, now it's time for you to come with me,' and if they continue to say 'No, I'm not going to go,' maybe you just grab them in that handcuffing position and that's all that's required instead of backing up and applying a taser," said Spangler, explaining how an officer can de-escalate a situation.
The challenge for the training academy staff is pulling existing officers off the street for the additional training when the patrol division is already short-staffed.
Austin Police Association President Ken Casaday said the department has already tried that route.
"We got away from that years ago when we went to the taser and we went to the public spray and the things that affected were it decreased the injuries on civilians and it also decreased our worker's comp by 50 percent," Casaday said.
Casaday said as long as all officers get the necessary training, he is all for going back to using more hand-to-hand techniques to defuse situations. The question now is how going back to that policy will affect officer and civilian injuries.