AAPI representation is growing in the Austin Police Department

APD commissioned 63 new officers during Friday’s graduation ceremony.

AUSTIN, Texas — Dozens of new Austin police officers were sworn in during a graduation ceremony in the state of Texas Bannockburn Church in South Austin on Friday.

The commission of 63 men and women, from two cadet classes, helps that Austin Police Department (APD) to represent the community it serves, particularly the Asian American community.

The KVUE Defenders examined the progress the department is making, even as hiring officers remains as difficult as ever.

Officer Ehlar Htoo is one of the newest members of the APD.

“This is a big day for me,” said Htoo.

We first met the 24-year-old about a year ago when he told us why he wanted to go to the police.

“We were going somewhere… we got lost… and we happened upon a first responder and he just helped us,” Htoo said. “You know, he also does whatever it takes to get us where we want to be… The way people make you feel will never change, and you always remember that gratitude and want to pay for it.” So that’s why I want to do it.”

About a year ago, KVUE defense attorneys discovered that Asian American Pacific Islanders (AAPIs) made up just under 3% of the sworn officers in the department. Compare that to Austin’s AAPI population at the same time, which was nearly 9% according to the US Census Bureau.

In June 2022 Austin’s housing and planning department updated figures released showing that the Asian population in the capital is close to 10%.

Lt. Jay Swann is supervising them recruitment unit.

“We’re definitely making improvements,” said Lt. Swann.

Newly released APD data shows AAPI numbers are improving. For APD’s three newest classes of cadets, AAPIs represent between 4.1% and 4.9%, figures that are not yet official as the cadets were officially commissioned this week.

“My expectation is that it will be a long, slow, grueling process to keep growing our numbers,” said Lt. Swann.

Recruitment remains a challenge, having ground to a halt in 2020 after the city council canceled three cadet classes and cut APD’s budget by $150 million to reinvent policing.

But the recruiting unit’s efforts have only increased, such as sending officers to the National Association of Asian Peace Officers first symposium. Senior Patrol Officer Dean Tran attended and saw firsthand why representation matters.

“It was a huge eye opener… ‘Wow, maybe I can move up and level up,'” Tran said.

Diversifying the department includes trying to hire more women. The KVUE Defenders first reported on this initiative called 30×30 earlier this year. In March, Chief Joseph Chacon pledged to bring the department to 30% women by 2030.

“We’re looking at a lot of different things to make it easier for families and women to have access if they have young children,” Chief Chacon said.

The last eight months of academy training have been tough for Htoo. He said there were times he didn’t think he would see that day.

Of the 84 applicants who competed in his cadet class, he is one of 55 who were successful. Now he is focused on serving the Austin community.

“I just want to help bridge the gap between the Asian community and the police force,” Officer Htoo said.

The chief also said that the 63 graduate officers will not eliminate the vacancies in the departments as there are now more than 280 vacancies. But he added that when the newly commissioned officers complete their field training in about three months, detectives and officers in some specialized units, like SWAT and homicide, will stop working patrol.

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https://www.kvue.com/article/news/investigations/defenders/aapi-representation-grows-in-the-austin-police-department/269-67ed644d-608f-46d7-9cba-514739520e91 AAPI representation is growing in the Austin Police Department

Laura Coffey

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