City of Austin begins search for new police chief

Tori Duff

Editor’s Note: This article first appeared in the April 2 issue of The Daily Texan.

Following last summer’s confrontation with racism and police brutality during the Black Lives Matter movement, some community activists are looking toward confirming a new Austin Police Department chief from outside the department.  

Former police chief Brian Manley announced his retirement on Feb. 12, which took effect on March 28. Interim police chief Joe Chacon, who was previously an APD assistant chief,  was confirmed to replace Manley by Austin City Council on March 25. City manager Spencer Cronk is leading the nationwide search for a new chief, a process that will conclude in August, according to a March 22 city memo

“This process will start immediately, and will rely heavily on extensive engagement with the community, the City’s leadership and the employees of the police department,” Cronk said in the memo. 

Cronk’s office declined to comment. 

Chacon said in a press meeting on Wednesday that he has not made any decisions about applying for the permanent position at this point.

Some activists see this as a critical opportunity to create real change within APD, starting from the top. 

“We’re watching systems break all around us, and so as those things break, we get the opportunity to start from the very beginning in a way that the growth will evolve into what it is that you want to see happen,” said Mayor Pro Tem Natasha Harper-Madison. “I really do see this as a brilliant opportunity and we have to get it right with our leadership.”

In April 2020, an investigation into racist and homophobic language used by APD leadership found there were “cultural issues … in need of attention.” The report found that racist and sexist slurs were used inside the department and officers were afraid of reporting.

Chas Moore, the executive director and founder of criminal justice nonprofit Austin Justice Coalition, said Austin needs a police chief who understands the public mistrust of law enforcement.

“People have reservations about police,” Moore said. “We need a police chief that understands that and is going to be willing to work with community advocates and activists.”

The first phase of the search involves increased community input. Cronk told the Austin City Council that the city will draft an initial ideal candidate profile this month. After this, stakeholders who represent diverse communities will be consulted and the city will hold five virtual meetings with the community to revise the initial candidate profile, according to Cronk’s message.

Austin approved the reopening of a “reimagined” cadet academy last Thursday. Meme Styles, the president and founder of Austin activist group MEASURE, said it is critical to bring in a police chief with fresh ideals, as new officer classes are being sworn in to emphasize the importance of changing police culture.

“The new chief needs to embrace transparency,” Styles said. “They need to value evidence-based policing, and not just in theory (but) in practice. And they also need to place a high value on higher education attainment standards for officers.”

Former police chief Manley was selected from within APD, having been in the department for 30 years. Harper-Madison said bringing in a chief from outside of the department will be a pathway for new ideas and change.

“We have acknowledged that we have a critical problem with our department,” Harper-Madison said. “Until we are able to reconcile or at least move in some substantive direction of reconciliation around the problems we have with our department, I just don’t know that it’s prudent to choose a person that came up in that same soil system.”