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Council members call for Manley to be made permanent police chief after Austin bombings

Friday, March 23, 2018 by Mose Buchele, KUT

Members of City Council want to formally appoint Interim Police Chief Brian Manley as the city’s permanent chief. If a resolution is approved, City Manager Spencer Cronk would need to make the final hiring decision.

Shortly after the announcement yesterday of the death of Austin’s serial bomber, Council Member Delia Garza issued a call to hire Manley permanently.

“Just seeing Chief Manley once again exhibit such amazing professionalism, amazing concern and care for our community, his amazing humility in these situations,” she said, “we need to make Chief Manley our police chief.”

She has the support of at least one other Council member – Leslie Pool.

Garza, who represents District 2, also said Council should “stop slow playing council resolutions” and quickly adopt a contract with the police union. City Council unanimously declined to adopt the last proposed police contract in large part because of concerns that it lacked tough oversight measures.

Garza said the recent events present an opportunity to support local officers and that she doesn’t see her push to quickly adopt a new police contract as a political gesture.

“I see this as an elected official coming out strongly with the opportunity to show (Austin police officers) the appreciation for everything they do for our community every day,” she said. “These men and women were running to the bombs and to the explosions.”

Cronk would have to OK any contract Council approves.

On Wednesday, Manley urged Cronk to move forward with contract negotiations. “You have a Police Department you can be proud of,” he said at a press conference announcing the discovery of a video confession of the serial bomber.

Manley has been the acting chief since Art Acevedo left for Houston in November 2016. Acevedo tweeted his support for Garza’s statement.

The selection of a permanent chief was put on hold during the city’s year-and-a-half-long search for a new city manager after former City Manager Marc Ott’s departure in 2016. Cronk started on the job last month.

On Thursday, Cronk seemed to knock down speculation that a decision on making Manley the permanent chief was imminent.

“Throughout this incident, I’ve witnessed incredible leadership throughout our public safety departments,” Cronk wrote in an emailed statement. “The trust and relationships they have with the community and our partner agencies is unquestionable. Our focus right now is on the important investigatory work that is continuing. I would expect that you will hear from me more on the status of my selection process in the coming weeks.”

Some see danger in rush to appoint Manley permanent Austin police chief

For more than a year, Brian Manley has been serving as Austin’s interim police chief. Now, voices are growing louder for the city to make that role permanent. So loud, in fact, that Austin’s city manager has said he expects to update people about the chief’s job in the near future.

David Roche, president of the Greater Austin Crime Commission, was among the people supporting Manley during the City Council meeting Thursday.

“If ever we had a reason to name our interim police chief permanent, we have just seen it,” he said. “Let’s get that done.”

But not everyone thinks now is the right time to offer him the job.

“It makes no sense to make an appointment as serious as this in the immediate aftermath of something so complex and fast-moving,” said Chris Harris with the criminal justice reform group Grassroots Leadership.

He said the quick appointment of Manley to permanent chief would rob Austinites of the chance to participate in the process by which they normally make important city hires.

“If we don’t take the opportunity to get whomever will be the next chief to be on record as supporting policies that reflect the values of the community,” Harris said, “then we’ve lost an extremely valuable opportunity to ensure we improve our police force.”

Then there’s the issue of how the Police Department handled the bombings. Manley’s supporters say stopping the bombings justifies his permanent hire.

But others think the police stumbled in the investigation.

At a community forum hosted last week by Austin Black Lives Matter and the Austin Justice Coalition, some residents said they thought the police response to the bombings was muted at the start, when only black and brown Austinites were targeted.

Others were angry that APD had at one point suggested that one of the deaths could have been a suicide.

It’s those people, said Harris, who would feel especially sidelined if the city moves to quickly make Manley a permanent chief.

This story was produced as part of the Austin Monitor’s reporting partnership with KUT. Photo by Gabriel C. Pérez/KUT.

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