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Tuesday, June 29, 2021 by Audrey McGlinchy, KUT
Nearly four dozen people have applied to be Austin’s next police chief. Here are four things to know.
The police chief in Wichita, Kansas. A commanding officer with the Los Angeles Police Department. An engineer with a cybersecurity firm. A real estate investor.
These are some of the 45 candidates who have applied to be Austin’s next police chief.
Austin’s been searching for the city’s next top cop since former Chief Brian Manley announced his retirement in February and stepped down in March. Since his exit, Joseph Chacon, who is among those applying for the job, has been serving as interim chief.
City Manager Spencer Cronk has said he plans to choose finalists for the job by August.
What should you know about those who applied? KUT received copies of the candidates’ resumes and cover letters through a public information request, and here are some takeaways.
1. Some have chief experience
More than a dozen candidates cite experience as a police chief – but in smaller (sometimes much smaller) jurisdictions.
Gordon Ramsay, the chief of police in Wichita, and Mirtha Ramos, who heads the DeKalb County Police Department in Georgia, are among those who have applied.
Wichita’s population is less than half of Austin’s. And while the population of DeKalb County is closer to Austin’s size, Ramos’ department likely polices a smaller population than the one here. DeKalb County includes the city of Decatur, but it has its own police department. The DeKalb County Police Department’s website says its officers mostly oversee unincorporated parts of the county in addition to two small cities.
Another notable former police chief who applied is Anne Kirkpatrick, who headed up the Oakland Police Department. According to news reports, city leaders and a citizen commission fired Kirkpatrick last year, saying they had lost confidence in her after a federal court monitor found she had mishandled an investigation into the 2018 police shooting of a man experiencing homelessness.
Kirkpatrick has since sued the department, claiming she was fired in return for reporting corruption.
Other candidates with police chief experience include Jorge Camarillo, police chief in Bangs, a small city about 170 miles northwest of Austin; and Manuel Jimenez, police chief at Concordia University.
2. Few women applied
Only four of the 45 people who applied identify as women. (KUT reviewed the female- or women-specific organizations that the applicants said they belonged to, plus the use of pronouns in news coverage of the candidates.)
Only two women have led the Austin Police Department in the past three decades. This includes Elizabeth Watson, who served as police chief in the 1990s, and Cathy Ellison, who stood in as interim chief before the city hired Art Acevedo in 2007.
As a whole, women are rare in law enforcement. According to an analysis of data from 1997-2016 by the Bureau of Justice Statistics, only 1 in 8 police officers are women.
The women who have applied are Kirkpatrick; Ramos; Celeste Murphy, a deputy chief at the Atlanta Police Department; and Emada Tingirides, a commanding officer at the Los Angeles Police Department.
Of these four candidates, at least two identify as Black, according to memberships to various law enforcement organizations they listed on their resumes. They include Murphy and Ramos.
3. A dozen say they speak Spanish
According to data from the U.S. Census Bureau, roughly 1 in 5 Austin residents speaks Spanish at home.
Austin has had at least one Spanish-speaking chief in the past decade. Former Chief Art Acevedo, who recently took the top job at the Miami Police Department, immigrated to the U.S. from Cuba when he was a child.
A dozen candidates indicated they speak Spanish, including Chacon; Elvis Guzman, commander at Green Cove Springs, Florida; Omar Chavez, a police instructor with the U.S. Department of State; Steven Rivera, a private contractor and training instructor in Virginia Beach; and Ernest Morales, a deputy commissioner at Mount Vernon Police Department in New York.
4. Most avoided discussing racial injustice
Only a handful of candidates addressed the public reckoning over the role of racism and bigotry in policing over the past year or the Austin City Council’s decision to cut millions in funding from the police department.
The hunt for Austin’s next police chief is happening after city leaders and community members have spent more than a year calling on the department to make significant changes to its culture and the way it trains new officers.
In June, the city started training new police officers after pausing cadet academies for more than a year. City Council members asked for this interruption so the city could revise police training materials, including the use of videos in cadet courses, after leaders fielded reports of intimidation from former police trainees.
At the same time, Council members had to reckon with protests against racial injustice following the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis and the police shooting of Michael Ramos in Austin. Last summer, City Council voted to transfer roughly $20 million out of the police department and into other departments, including Austin Public Health and Austin-Travis County EMS.
The budget reduction was part of Council’s desire to rethink the role of police officers, in what city executives have called “reimagining public safety.”
Only a small portion of candidates who applied to be Austin’s next police chief acknowledged the city’s proclaimed interest in making changes to the department.
Kirkpatrick, the former Oakland police chief, wrote: “The (Austin) police department is also one of the more advanced major city police departments; yet, they also have the opportunity to be the leading law enforcement agency in the country in ‘reimagining policing’. Policing is a noble profession, but the profession needs a culture change.”
Eric Winstrom, a commander at the Chicago Police Department, said: “I’ve been at the table with city leaders for discussions with community groups who wished to ‘defund the police’ and learned that slogan means very different things to different people.”
And Chacon, Austin’s interim police chief, wrote: “We must address institutional racism and the disparate impacts of our contacts with people of color and other affected communities. I am a strong proponent of the law and believe that reimagining efforts will lead to balanced public safety approaches.”
This story was produced as part of the Austin Monitor’s reporting partnership with KUT.
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Key Players & Topics In This Article
Austin Police Department: the law enforcement entity for the City of Austin.