It’s been one week since Baton Rouge police officers shot and killed Alton Sterling, a black man selling CDs outside a convenience store. Just a day later, Philando Castile was shot and killed by police outside St. Paul, Minn.
Then last Thursday, a lone gunman killed five Dallas police officers as protestors were winding down what was, by many accounts, a peaceful rally. The following day, the Austin Police Department ushered 37 new police officers onto the force.
At the graduation on Friday, Austin Police Chief Art Acevedo acknowledged the timing.
“This afternoon we had a press conference, and we were talking about Dallas,” he said to a large crowd of officers and family members gathered at a Baptist church in north Austin. At that press conference, Acevedo announced that he would be using current overtime funds to increase patrol staffing to 100 percent.
“Someone said, ‘What are you going to tell the cadets about what happened last night?’ ...We’re going tell them that one crazy guy full of hate made a really, really bad choice last night. Five police officers that never did anything to that man, probably never met that man, probably never hurt that man, lost their lives. They didn’t get to go home.”
“It makes you reconsider,” said Andres Salgado, one of the 37 new officers that graduated as part of the department’s 133rd class. “Hey, is this what I really want to do?”
Salgado completed a 32-week training course to become an officer. He worked his first patrol shift in north Austin on Sunday.
“I mean, is it scary going out there? Absolutely,” he said. “But we do it because it’s not just a job. It’s a calling.”
During the graduation, Acevedo took time to acknowledge the role social media and smartphones have played in documenting some of the shootings of black men by officers.
“You’re joining a profession at a time that is the most scrutinized profession in the United States of America,” Acevedo said to the new officers seated in the pews below him. “Your actions are being recorded. Many times they’re being recorded by people that only put…the response from the police and not what led up to the response. Many times it’s being recorded from an angle that will absolutely make your actions look as horrific as possible. But many times too often, we aren’t doing the right thing in our profession.”
Brandy Hanna, one of three new female officers who graduated Friday, said she decided to become a police officer in college, after watching her father work as an APD officer for years.
“The cadets that graduated today, the new officers, we all spoke every day about how we can’t wait to get out there just to make a difference and help people," Hanna said. "And we are there for each and every one of you regardless of what you look like and what you believe."