The Austin Police Association released a statement today appearing to blame the Austin Police Department (APD) police chief's budget priorities for the shooting of David Joseph, a naked, unarmed teen who Officer Geoffrey Freeman alleged was charging at him when he shot Joseph twice in the chest.
The shooting last Monday has led to protests by local activists and an insistence by the police chief, Art Acevedo, that his department is committed to a transparent investigation. "We aren't Ferguson; we're not another American city," Acevedo said. "We're the city of Austin and we stand together to hold each other's feet to the fire."
Nevertheless, Acevedo has resisted calls for an outside investigation, saying those were "premature" and that the APD was capable of conducting an impartial investigation.
In its statement today, the police association insisted that while the incident had not yet been fully investigated, "one question has risen above all others. Why didn't this officer use another option in dealing with this situation?" Their answer: a shortage of 145 police officers. The union claims it has lobbied APD administration "to deal with this problem before a tragedy occurs," and that there was not enough money to hire officers overtime to cover the shortage.
There were more than 100 vacancies in the APD last year, even though it is among the highest paying departments in the state of Texas. Back then, the police association blamed "tragedies over the last year and a half" that have made people question why they would want to be cops. The APD has previously blamed unspecified hiring practices as well as how long it takes to train a police officer.
The police association is also calling for more training in the wake of the David Joseph shooting. At today's press conference, the association's president also called for more hand-to-hand defensive combat training for officers. He also criticized the police chief for having Black Lives Matter activists present at a recent press conference about the David Joseph shooting, calling it "absolutely unacceptable," and for promising to have the investigation concluded within 30 days.
At the same conference, Freeman's attorney, who argues the unarmed, naked teenager made Freeman fear for his life, insisted the officer's "perspective" of the situation, and not race, was a factor in the shooting. Freeman is black, and a representative from the Texas Peace Officers Association, which says it was the first black police organization in the U.S., insisted he was "a good person" and a "good officer."
The racial dynamics of this case make it more difficult for certain police activists and police apologists to attempt to isolate the incident in an effort to sidestep engagement of the systemic issues surrounding police violence. The course of the investigation, including the disciplinary and legal measures available to the APD and those that it decides to exercise, will be illustrative of some of those wider systemic issues.
There is dashcam video of the shooting but the APD chief insists he won't release it out of because of his "responsibilities" to the Freeman and Joseph families. Dispatch audio, however, is available.