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Austin police chief hopefuls talk racism and reimagining policing

Avery Moore, assistant chief of the Dallas Police Department; Emada E. Tingirides, deputy chief of the Los Angeles police department; and Joseph Chacon, interim police chief for APD, were able to meet the community on Wednesday. (City of Austin)

Standing before community members and current officers of the Austin Police Department, the three finalists for the Austin police chief role answered questions on how to reimagine public safety and address systemic racism at the first of two community meetings to meet the candidates on Wednesday evening.

The candidates, Avery Moore, assistant chief of the Dallas Police Department; Emada E. Tingirides, deputy chief of the Los Angeles police department; and Joseph Chacon, interim police chief for APD, were each asked the same three questions by a city moderator, followed by a unique last question.

Here are the key points from the discussion.

Share your professional background and experience, highlighting points that would help you be successful as the next chief of police, as well as tell us why you would like to serve in this position. Highlight examples of your work.

Avery Moore: Moore's 31 years in law enforcement with the city of Dallas show a track record of crime reduction and building community trust, he said. "My steps are ordained by the Lord, and he's ordered me to be here today and to be your next chief," he added.

Emada E. Tingirides: Tinigirides brought de-escalation and empathy to her 26 years "working in communities that are the most underserved, low socioeconomic, and violent communities in the City of Los Angeles," she said. Her experience has "been in exactly what the city is looking for," she said, adding that she knows what racism is, can communicate and make change.

Joseph Chacon: "There's no part of policing I haven't worked in or overseen," said the bilingual El Paso native. A 27-year officer, Chacon said he's already revamped cadet training and appointed the city's first ever Asian American assistant chief of police. "I love this city and the police department," he said.

Austin's Reimagining Public Safety Initiative will be the centerpiece for the next chief's tenure. What are your thoughts on the initiative and what would your approach be?

AM: Moore said he banned chokeholds and no-knock warrants in Dallas. Officers were also trained in properly responding to peaceful protests, he said. "Policing should always strive where you have deficiencies to make a positive. I look forward to (reimagining)… We can't run away from recommendations … It's gonna take an entire team, literally the entire city."

ET: The task force recommended services communities should already have, including reentry services to reduce recidivism after jail time, job training and rent help, said Tingirides. A program she helped create in LA placed dedicated officers in neighborhoods to build trust, ultimately seeing those neighborhoods reduce violent crime by 30% a decade years later.

JC: Chacon said he has been with the taskforce since inception and sees the training academy as the best way to effect change. Austin police training has shifted from a paramilitary academy to one based on an adult learning environment, said Chacon. Cadets now understand why they're getting into the line of work and why they should transition from a warrior mindset to a guardian mindset. Cadets analyze racial and systemic inequities through coursework from day one now, he said. They also learn the history of racism and policing in Austin.

People are taking a critical look at systematic racism in policing. What have you done in the past to address this issue and what will your approach be as Austin's police chief?

AM: "That's a touchy, sensitive topic for me because I've been on both sides," he said. Moore said he became an officer after his uncle was arrested and beaten by police. "We have to be willing to take on topics that may be unpleasant, and racism unfortunately is real," he said.

ET: "Institutional racism means everybody's bad. I don't believe the Austin Police Department is institutionalized with a bunch of police officers that are racist" said Tingirides, adding that she'd create a robust leadership program for officers to advance in their careers.

JC: Officers are taking a "course (that) looks at systems and whole institutions to see where we have unwittingly created bias that makes it tougher for communities of color and communities that have been marginalized. We bring in officers and community members and share stories," said Chacon, saying the interaction leads to greater understanding.

mike ramos apd protest(Austonia staff)

Given a unique question to answer, the applicants took a moment to show how they'd considered some of Austin and America's most pressing policing issues.

Moore was asked how to make sure police reflect the demographic makeup of the community. "If you tell people that you want them and you give them value, they'll come and serve because everybody inherently wants to serve the community they live in." Moore added that he'd be hands-on in recruiting with those principles in mind.

Prompted to discuss her experience with policing and people with mental health issues, Tinigirides talked about officers in L.A. making a point to meet with the concerned family of a child with autism to establish a connection and familiarity before any services were necessary from police. Citing the importance of mental health clinicians, she said she thought they should be able to respond to nonviolent situations first and that clinicians should be available 24/7 to help.

Police funding came up in a question to interim chief Chacon. He was asked whether APD needs more officers, Chacon said the department is "intelligence-led and evidence-based." Thus, his answer would hinge on first carrying out detailed surveys of community demands for excellent policing and the establishment of metrics on how to meet those demands.

The search for a chief comes after the retirement of Brian Manley, chief from 2016 to early 2021, who stepped down after three decades in law enforcement in March. He faced criticism for the way he handled the local protests against police brutality. Assistant chief at the time, Joseph Chacon, was appointed interim police chief in April. Were he to be offered the job of police chief, he would be protected from job dismissal by Texas law since he is an internal hire.

City Manager Spencer Cronk and Assistant City Manager Rey Arellano plan to recommend one police chief before October, with city council making the final approval.


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