City of Austin should not punish APD Chief Acevedo for his transparency

David Dam

Austin city manager Marc Ott surprised everyone when documents released last week revealed he had punished Austin police chief Art Acevedo for “insubordination.” Ott has come under fire from local activists and politicians alike, and this backlash is warranted. The justifications for such a reprimand do not seem to add up.

The punishment — a loss of five days’ pay, a warning that Acevedo’s job could be in jeopardy and an order to obtain authorization for any work-related travel outside of Austin — stems from Ott’s claims that Acevedo disobeyed orders back in February when he discussed the police shooting of an unarmed teenager, David Joseph.

Acevedo echoed comments made by Austin mayor Steve Adler for a thorough investigation in a February press conference. Later, he met with Austin Justice Coalition leaders and Black Lives Matter, drawing praises from protesters for his approach to the situation. However, the president of the Austin Police Association expressed disappointment in regards to Acevedo’s actions.

According to a public memo, the Austin Police Association issued a verbal complaint when Acevedo discussed the shooting with the Austin Police Academy. In their opinion, Acevedo’s comments showed that he reached a conclusion before the shooting investigation was complete. Despite being told not to by Ott, Acevedo later returned to the Police Academy to clarify any misunderstandings.

Ott’s request for a review of these allegations produced no findings that Acevedo had violated Austin Police Department or City policy but did constitute the offense of insubordination. As a result, Ott wrote a letter to Acevedo explaining the reprimand.

“This personnel action is based on your acts of insubordination, your poor judgment regarding comments made during a pending IA investigation, and the operation and judgment concerns documented in my August 11, 2011 memorandum,” Ott wrote.

Whether Acevedo’s actions are worthy for such a scathing reprimand is up for question. In a written response to the city manager, Acevedo did not consider his actions to be insubordinate but declared that he would respect Ott’s authority. Yet Acevedo also questioned how he could perform his duties with restrictions on what he could have done.

“The reprimand and your direction in reaction to the allegations by the police association are contrary to the interests of the men and women I lead, the City of Austin, and the diverse community we serve,” wrote Acevedo.

Remaining silent on any unarmed shooting is the exact opposite of what police chiefs around the country should be doing. With confidence in the police at its lowest in 22 years nationally, Acevedo had no choice but to inform the public. In the internal review, Acevedo’s public comments did not show that he had already reached a conclusion before the investigation was completed. Much of the reprimand seems to sit on the fact that Acevedo talked to cadets about the shooting.

Trying one’s best to prevent further people from being shot should never be classified as “poor judgment.” Acevedo recognized the importance of transparency on such a controversial issue. While Acevedo’s interests to inform the public and protect the community may have strayed away from his instruction, this matter should not have been blown up as it was. We should instead be focusing on transparency and how to deal with the aftermath of an officer-involved shooting, and Acevedo should not have been reprimanded for that.

Dam is a linguistics and Spanish freshman from Austin. Follow Dam on Twitter @daviddamwrite.