New 15th District Police Commander Yolanda Talley said she’s focused on reaching out to the community, particularly young people in Austin while continuing to fight against crime.
Talley was promoted to commander earlier this year after her predecessor, Ernest Cato, was promoted to Deputy Chief of Patrol for Area North, which includes most of the city’s North and West Side neighborhoods. The 15th District includes the portion of Austin south of Division Street and west of Cicero Avenue.
Talley has worked in the district for about two years. Before coming to the 15th District, she was a sergeant in human resources and a sergeant in the 7th District in Englewood, according to AustinTalks. Talley has also been an undercover narcotics officer and a member of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration’s High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas (HIDTA).
A graduate of Northwestern University’s School of Police Staff and Command, she also earned a master’s degree in forensic sociology from The Chicago School of Professional Psychology.
Talley, who grew up in East Garfield Park, assumed command in October. She said that she will be taking a cue from the neighboring 25th district and establishing a youth advisory council to not only improve community relations, but get a better sense of how young people want to be policed.
At the start of 2019, the 25th District launched a community policing pilot. One of the program’s major components is the establishment of District Coordinating Officers. Each DCO supervises three beats within the district and they are responsible for working with the community members to find out what their needs are, and directing the officers and city resources to help address those needs. Talley she’s eager to bring the initiative to the 15th District, because she saw how successful it was in the 25th District.
“I look at it as the resident having a personal police officer,” she said. “For example, if I have my light out, I can call my DCO and say, ‘I am afraid, I don’t feel safe with the light out.’ And that officer is going to assist me.”
Talley said that the program would also enable business owners to work with a DCO to find a long-term solution to loitering, as opposed to calling the police and watching the loiterers scatter.
“I’m excited about it and my officers are excited about it,” she said. “We just want to build on the strong community/police relationships that already exist in the 15th District.’
Talley said that she hopes her youth advisory council effectively addresses the trust and communications gap between police and area youth.
“We want to hear from the young people,” she said. “How do they want to be policed? How do they want the police to interact with them? We can’t arrest our way out of the problems we have in our community. We need to have the community involved with what’s going on in our district.”
Talley added that she hopes to build on the community partnerships forged by Cato, in addition to creating more youth activities. Currently, she’s in talks with PCC Community Wellness Center, which has several facilities in Austin, about doing health screenings for young people in February.
“Most young people don’t go to the doctor until they’ve been shot,” she said. “We’re going to bring nurses to them, where’ going to screen them for low blood pressure, diabetes [and other health issues].”