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What Austin's Police Chief Thinks We Can Learn from Baltimore

Protest at the Baltimore Police Department Western District building at N. Mount St. and Riggs Ave. on April 25, 2015.
Protest at the Baltimore Police Department Western District building at N. Mount St. and Riggs Ave. on April 25, 2015.

From Texas Standard :Television is supposed to draw people closer to the action and make them feel like they're there.

But it doesn't quite feel that way watching footage of the Baltimore riots. It's out there — distant — as we observe and decide for ourselves what went wrong from the comfort of our homes.

For the cable television pontificators and armchair politicos, the conversation today focuses on whether the riots are a symptom of underlying problems, or the problem itself.

This is a luxury afforded bystanders, but not first responders.

If you're in a large city such as Dallas, Houston, or San Antonio, and you're an official tasked with maintaining order, these images on TV are more than fodder for roundtable discussions. They're real-time lessons in how to manage (or how not to manage) a crisis of civil unrest.

Austin's Police Chief Art Acevedo joins the Texas Standard to discuss what Baltimore is getting right and what it's getting wrong.

"One of the things, I think is not a bad idea, is to try to give people the opportunity to exercise their First Amendment rights,” Acevedo says. “And giving them the opportunity to do that in a lawful, peaceful manner."

But are the Baltimore police handling the situation well? Acevedo says it’s difficult to tell.

"It's hard for me to judge because I'm not sure what the rules of engagement are for that particular police department. I survived as a young acting sergeant, getting ready to be a sergeant, in the Los Angeles riots back in the early '90s… which was the worst civil unrest in modern history,” he says. “Over 50 people lost their lives. There's never a good, or right-or-wrong answer. It is a situation where it's very fluid, it's very dynamic. There's a lot of anger, and at the end of the day, if we can get through this, restore order, and without the loss of life, that's the first priority."

If he had the ear of the Baltimore police chief, he says the best piece of advice would be ensuring people have the resources they need to keep people safe — especially the people engaging in peaceful protest.

“Get that investigation on the death of the individual that died — get it done sooner rather than later. If they don’t have cameras in their prisoner transport vans they need to get them,” Acevedo says. “My thoughts and prayers are with them. Not just the officers, but the community and all the peaceful people of Baltimore.”


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