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Being a police officer is a difficult job. Officers must regularly fight the dangers most
Controversy about where and when the use of deadly force is appropriate has existed almost as long as police departments have been around. Austin is not immune to such controversy.
Recently, this conflict was brought into the foreground here by a series of front-page articles in the Austin American-Statesman, which presented data that suggested that the Austin Police Department unfairly targeted minorities in their use of force. These articles have spurred debate over the issue and have caused difficulties between the city and the police union negotiating a new contract.
"Our police department can't discipline itself," says Ann Del Llano of the American Civil Liberties Union. "You can take away all the skin color and we still have no discipline whatsoever for the officers who commit misconduct. Even when our Chief of Police signs memorandums finding that they commit serious felonies, usually the officers are not indicted and they're never punished at work."
Others express concern about possible problems with police culture.
"When I went through the academy," says Carla Nickerson, a former police officer and member of the Citizens' Review Panel. "If I had been a younger, more impressionable person, because I was living in central east Austin then, I would have been afraid of my own neighbors, my own family, based on what people, officers training us, said about central east Austin."
Supporters of the police department are worried that politics have complicated the issue and done a disservice to good officers who are just trying to do their jobs.
"We expect people to question our actions, to gauge what we do, but we want them to base it on facts," says Lt. Kim Nobles, spokesperson for the Austin Police Department. "Whatever discipline you issue, however you review a case, base it solely on the facts of the case and not the political climate."
Whatever the cause of the conflict, it is clear that this polarizing issue has no easy solution, but our community is struggling to find some middle ground.
Produced by Tom Spencer. This story originally aired in February 2004.
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