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Tuesday, March 23, 2021 by Audrey McGlinchy
Austin nominates interim police chief, permanent chief to be named by August
Joseph Chacon, an assistant chief of the Austin Police Department, has been nominated to serve as interim police chief as Brian Manley readies to leave the department this week. City Manager Spencer Cronk announced Chacon’s nomination in a memo Monday morning. Chacon will serve until a permanent chief can be appointed.
State law requires that City Council members confirm Chacon’s appointment. Council is scheduled to vote on Thursday.
“I am confident that his team, alongside of our dedicated, professional men and (women) of our police department, will ensure a smooth transition as we recruit and welcome our next police chief,” Cronk wrote in a memo to the mayor and Council members.
Chacon’s nomination kicks off the city’s search for a new permanent chief. At a press conference Monday, Cronk said he expects to name Manley’s permanent replacement by August. This person will also need to be confirmed by a City Council vote.
“We’re looking for someone that collaborates with our community, instills trust in our workforce and achieves results that have been established by Council policy and will create a culture of improvement and accountability within the department,” Cronk said. “We need a chief who is willing and able to lead the department in ways that lead to equitable public safety outcomes for all.”
The hunt for a new chief – which Cronk called “national, and dare I say, international” – comes at a time when city leaders and community members are calling on the department to make significant changes to its culture and the way it trains new officers. Last summer, Council members voted to cut millions from the department and to immediately use some of that money in other departments, such as Austin Public Health.
Several recent reports have highlighted issues regarding how APD recruits and trains new officers. A report released in January describes how videos used in cadet training courses bolster racist and sexist ideas. In addition to confirming Chacon’s nomination Thursday, Council members will vote on whether to restart new officer academies, which have been on hold for almost a year as the city reconsiders the curriculum it uses.
Cronk said Monday he will be looking for a new chief who is open to these changes.
“This is a critical time for our community and the Austin Police Department,” he said. “The community is calling for transformational change to public safety.”
The city has hired Ralph Andersen & Associates, a California-based recruitment firm, to help with the search for a new police chief and has promised that residents will have plenty of input on who is chosen. Community members can fill out a survey about what they’d like to see in a new police chief. Cronk said finalists will be announced to the public by this summer.
When contacted Monday, police reform advocates declined to speak about Chacon’s appointment. But several organizations sent a letter to City Hall leaders last month asking that Cronk not use “the traditional ‘next in line approach’” in deciding who to name to the interim role.
“A reform-oriented interim chief who has not been a part of the current administration will demonstrate Austin’s commitment to real change as the city conducts a national search for a permanent chief,” members of the Austin Justice Coalition, Just Liberty and the Black Leaders Collective wrote.
According to the city, Chacon began his police career with APD in 1998 and currently works as the central bureau chief, overseeing downtown, special events and other areas.
This story was produced as part of the Austin Monitor’s reporting partnership with KUT.
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