Austin city council names Joe Chacon next police chief

Tori Duff, News Reporter

The Austin City Council confirmed Joe Chacon as the new police chief Thursday after several months of community feedback and interviews with candidates in search for a chief that would help advance public safety reforms.

Chacon became interim police chief for the Austin Police Department after former chief Brian Manley retired in March. City manager Spencer Cronk announced Chacon’s nomination at a Sept. 22 press conference. 

Some community activists called on the city to reevaluate the criteria used to select a chief after Manley’s retirement and to focus more on community feedback following protests against police brutality in the summer of 2020, according to previous Texan reporting

“We have this culture of a militarized police,” sociology professor Bill Kelly said. “At the end of the day, the qualities that a chief of police needs to have is the commitment to deal with all these different constituencies in promoting, supporting and recommending fundamental reform.”  

While APD’s union disagreed with Chacon’s appointment, some criminal justice activists have praised Chacon for his positions on the city’s public safety reforms, some of which include diverting funds from Austin’s police budget. In March, Chacon testified against a Texas legislative bill that punished cities for diverting funds from police departments. Chacon also recently opposed Proposition A, a ballot item in Austin’s Nov. 2 election that increases APD’s funding to raise the officer-to-citizen ratio.

Chacon has worked in the department for over two decades and was formerly an assistant chief. At the beginning of the search process, some people expected city manager Cronk to decide on an outside hire, given calls for a change in APD’s culture, Cronk said during the same press conference.

In August, the city held forums for the final three candidates to answer community questions about their leadership goals.

“Having that contribution from the people who were directly affected by these systems to the recreation of the system is critical to getting it right,” said Mayor Pro-Tem Natasha Harper-Madison. “It’s important to have someone (as chief) who … has goals to provide … the appropriate social safety nets and public good social services to increase people’s quality of life.”

Law professor Jennifer Laurin said most people do not think someone who has been in the department for so long could create substantial changes, but Chacon may break the status quo.

“As interim chief, he went to the legislature and testified against state legislation that would lock in police funding,” Laurin said. “The expectation, I think, would have been that at best, he would say nothing. The fact that he is planning to pursue this suggests that he is perhaps willing to embrace more significant reform than one would expect.”

However, Kelly said some community members say they will need to see Chacon advocate for more fundamental reform before they have full confidence in his appointment.

“A police chief who is really interested in public safety, in preventing crime, needs to understand that (police) don’t currently have the tools to effectively do that,” Kelly said. “Their primary purpose should be in transitioning the systems, funding, policies and procedures and the culture of policing in a different direction.”