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New police chief expected to be named by late summer

Wednesday, June 9, 2021 by Amy Smith

More than three dozen people have applied to become Austin’s next police chief, a role that comes with a number of challenges critical to the success of the city and its process to reimagine public safety.

Recruitment for the position will continue until the position is filled. As of mid-afternoon, about 36 applicants had filed for APD’s top post, with more applications expected before the end of the day.

The final candidate will replace former Chief Brian Manley, who retired in March after 30 years with the department. Manley’s departure came nearly a year after City Council and community members had called for his dismissal in the wake of APD’s overreach during last summer’s Black Lives Matters protests. Police fired rounds of non-lethal weapons into crowds of protesters, causing serious head and facial injuries to some of the participants and traumatizing others. The crowds were protesting the fatal shooting of an unarmed Austin resident, Mike Ramos, in April 2020, and the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis in May 2020.

After Manley’s retirement, the city manager named interim Police Chief Joseph Chacon to oversee the department until a permanent chief could be hired. It’s uncertain if Chacon or other internal personnel have applied for the position.

Assistant City Manager Rey Arellano provided a timeline at Monday’s meeting of the Public Safety Commission, beginning with the hiring of consultant team Ralph Andersen & Associates in March. A series of stakeholder outreach sessions started in April, which included community activists, various organizations, Council offices and city staffers, as well as representatives from several boards and commissions.

Consultants are now in the process of screening the applications to identify six to 10 top candidates for initial screenings in July. Two or three finalists will be selected from the initial crop. The finalists will be introduced to the community – probably in late July or early August – at which time residents will have the ability to interact with them, said Arellano, who oversees the city’s police, fire and EMS departments.

Public Safety Commission Chair Rebecca Gonzales noted she participated in the initial engagement process with the consultants, along with representatives of other commissions. “We had a really great conversation and I feel very confident that the consultant has really heard us,” she said. “We brought up some very specific feedback around the ability to turn around departments, and the ability to have experience with departments that have morale issues.”

Commissioner Nelly Paulina Ramirez expressed hope that the new chief will be someone who is open to institutional change and perhaps have experience with top-to-bottom change within an organization.

“I know that sometimes in this hiring-by-committee process we tend to look for people who are good in lots of different buckets,” Ramirez said. “I think it’s fair to say that there are some buckets that are more important than others and I think you’ve probably heard that through a lot of the citizens’ feedback.”

This story has been changed since publication. Though it was stated in the meeting that applications had closed, clarification from the city explained that recruitment remains open. 

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