AUSTIN, Texas — The Austin Police Department (APD) is welcoming 66 new officers to the force after a graduation ceremony Friday afternoon.
The commencement ceremony for the 144th cadet class took take place at Great Hills Baptist Church.
"The graduating cadets, who will be commissioned during the ceremony, successfully completed a demanding 34-week training program," the APD said. "The training included legal issues, driving, crisis intervention training, community policing, leadership, defensive tactics and physical fitness."
During the ceremony, Chief of Police Joseph Chacon administered the Oath of Office to the cadets. Awards presented during the ceremony also included the Honor Cadet and Humanitarian Award.
The 144th cadet class began in June 2021 with a total of 100 cadets after a year-long pause as city leaders worked to "reimagine" the training academy amid leadership changes, internal investigations and city council resolutions.
"This class represents a significant shift in the way that we conduct our cadet training, moving from a military or paramilitary-style environment in our academy into one that is resilience-based, that is grounded in active learning components and an adult learning environment," said then-Interim Chief Chacon last summer. "So there will be much more interaction between the cadets and the instructors. And we have also placed a greater emphasis on physical training."
Some of this year's cadets include longtime Austinites, new Central Texas residents and even military veterans.
"We have an awesome group of cadets, we have an awesome group of instructors and staff out here," said Commander Chris Vallejo. "We're redoing the way we look at training here at the academy. We're having a lot of community input into the process as well, and we're incorporating skills that our police officers need to be successful in the 21st century, and I'm glad to be part of it in this pivotal moment."
The officers were welcomed amid an officer shortage that has been exacerbated by the fact that there hasn't been a class since 2020 due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. This year, their program had an emphasis on implicit bias and de-escalation training.
“I decided to go for law enforcement because I wanted to do something purposeful that will serve the community,” said program graduate Natacha Wells.
But even with the new class, the police force still has more than 240 vacancies. Chacon said the department still needs more officers.
“We’re sitting at just over 240 operational vacancies on our department from our authorized strength of 1,809. What that means is that a lot of those vacancies are carried by patrol right now, which is very concerning,” he said.
Since 2019, the number of police officers leaving the department has increased. In 2021, the number grew by a third. The No. 1 reason for officers leaving was retirement, followed by resignations.
“With the defunding and the social justice movement, not a lot of people want to be police officers anymore,” said Kenneth Casaday, president of the Austin Police Association.
Casaday said about 15 officers leave a month, and that leaves others with more shoes to fill.
“I work overtime on my off days," Casaday said. "I work Monday through Friday, and then, if I have time, I'll work a shift on a Saturday or Sunday.”
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