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.
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.
Six days a week, thousands of onlookers tune in to live streams to watch the pros rake it all in at high-stakes poker tournaments. The big-name poker players aren't in Las Vegas or even Oklahoma's finest casinos—instead, they're where Texas Hold 'Em gets its name.
Gambling may be illegal in Texas, but over a hundred poker houses are using a loophole to open up shop across the state, especially in Austin and Dallas.
The classic poker game is finally getting played for real cash around the Lone Star State thanks to an exception in Texas' gambling ban that allows poker games to be played in private residences. Instead of taking a cut from the pot like traditional gambling ventures, private poker houses don't make money from the results of a game; instead, they get their revenue from membership and hourly fees.
It's a business strategy that's gone (mostly) unchallenged by Texas politicians, especially as the industry begins to heat up.
Austin may now have around 20 poker houses around town, but it wasn't long ago that one stood alone like a small town saloon. The city's premiere poker house, Texas Card House, was founded in 2015 and has since grown to include a YouTube channel with over 30,000 subscribers, a wide range of gameplay and regular visits from big-name poker gurus like Brad Owen and Doug Pope.
David Lagana, a content creator who has worked in college sports and Hollywood, was brought into the scene in May as the house's live streams began to blow up. He said the live streaming battleground is only beginning.
"The space is ever-growing," Lagana said. "It's been interesting to try and find a lane that everybody can succeed. It's all about finding something that people want to watch on a nightly basis."
Can Player BLUFF Andrew Neeme and Brad Owen on LIVE Stream?
Watch now - https://t.co/4Wt4s5Z0V7@TheBradOwen @andrewneeme pic.twitter.com/Yg4R0c0sj2
— Texas Card House (@texascardhouse) August 25, 2021
Carolyn Hapgood, who has worked for Texas Card House for three years, has made a name for herself as a live stream producer, dealer and player herself with the company. She's seen Texas Card House grow from a two-room card house to the most well-known poker venue in Austin with another branch in Dallas.
"It was a teeny tiny little house with five tables, and that was the first legal card house in the state," Hapgood said. "And since then it's blown up."
Texas Card House dealer Carolyn Hapgood has been working with Austin's premier poker house since 2018. (Texas Poker House Austin/Facebook)
From $100 pots to buy-ins of $15,000 or more, Texas Card House has it all, especially as in-state players learn more about the game. Hapgood said there isn't really a typical poker player at the house—instead, the poker table forms an "interesting little ecosystem" that includes college students, a 93-year old Vietnam War veteran, online gamblers, old-school players and everyone in between. The diversity at the table has been enhanced even further by COVID as people clamor to return to in-person events.
But Texas Card House no longer holds a "royal flush" in Austin's poker culture. The Lodge, based in Round Rock, is now expanding to over 60 tables, the largest in Texas, while Palms Social Club, owned by Texas Card Houses' original owner Sam Von Kennel, brought service staff and a refined atmosphere to the Austin scene.
Hapgood said the base of poker players is very large and continues to grow, forming a community as players form friendships on and off the table.
"My favorite part of the poker community is how much fun we have," Hapgood said. "You sit at a table with eight of your friends, everyone's kind of just having a good time. There's a lot of players who will, you know, call or text each other after they're done playing, and they end up inviting each other barbecues, and going out to dinner with their families and stuff like that... those are my favorite people to hang out with."
Getting involved in the poker scene is as easy as tuning into a live stream, and Lagana hopes to see more outsiders like himself get inspired by poker in the future.
"It's kind of like life," Lagana said. "Life isn't just one hand to play... you're only in control of sort of what's in your hand (and) you can't play the card that you weren't dealt with. So it's really been a fascinating life lesson for me."
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From four-time Grammy-nominee turned big-screen actor, Black Pumas frontman Eric Burton will debut in the sci-fi short film "Devexity," which is written, directed by and stars Austinites.
The film, brought to life by Austin-based filmmaker Luke Lidell, will premiere on Oct. 7 at the Native Hostel while Burton is in town for Austin City Limits Fest. Then, "Devexity" will head off to film festival screenings, according to a report by The Austin Chronicle.
Following Burton as the film's protagonist, named Jean, "Devexity" takes place across several different settings and surfaces an existential response from the watcher. Burton stars alongside fellow Austinites Ali Pentecost, Dominique Pitts and New Yorker Madison Murrah in the partially black-and-white film.
The film was shot over the course of four days in October 2020, which Lidell said was a challenge of "focus" and "trust" to create. With a variety of scenes and intertwining narratives, the film dives into the topic of virtual reality.
A musician in addition to a filmmaker, Lidell previously directed the film "Telekinetic" in 2018. The script for "Devexity" was written by Lidell with Burton in mind for the lead after meeting him during a music video project in 2017—Lidell said Burton helped him shape the characters along the way.
Now that the door has been opened for work between Burton and Lidell, you're likely to see the pair collaborate again—a Black Pumas documentary is being rumored.
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The University of Texas at Austin welcomed more incoming freshmen than ever before, with 9,060 new Longhorns, thanks to the rise of on-time graduations allowing the university to admit more undergraduates.
The count was taken on the 12th day of class, Sept. 10, beating out the previous high of 8,960 from 2018. The new class is also setting records for its diversity, citing a rise of Black, Hispanic and Asian undergrads.
@UTAustin is serving more first-generation and historically underrepresented groups than ever, while raising grad rates for all, including our growing population of Pell-eligible students pic.twitter.com/qYQPEfUXG4
— Jay Hartzell (@JCHartzell) September 20, 2021
"People all across the UT community have been working hard to recruit, attract, retain and support even more talented and diverse students, staff members and faculty members who can change the world," UT President Jay Hartzell said. "I'm proud that our combined enrollment of historically underrepresented groups has reached record levels for the second year in a row."
A 3% enrollment rise can be attributed to UT's all-time high graduation rates: the four-year graduation rate rose from 72.2% to 72.7%, while the six-year student rate rose from 87.6% to 87.7%.
Of the 51,992 students on UT's campus, 13,366, or 29.6%, come from historically underrepresented groups—including Black, Hispanic, American Indian or Alaska Native, or Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander—one of the highest totals out of the Association of American Universities and a record-breaking percentage.
With this new class, the university is also serving more first-generation students and Hispanic students than ever before, making up 22.9% and 27.1% of the undergrad student body, respectively. Last year, UT hit a quota of 25% Hispanic students to qualify as a Hispanic-Serving Institution and received the Seal of Excelencia for its commitment to the success of Latin students.
Black students fell just a bit, from 5.3% to 5.2% university-wide, though the actual enrollment amount is up, from 2,193 to 2,219.
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