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Assistant Chief Joe Chacon briefs the media on the first day of early voting last October. (Austonia staff)

Assistant Police Chief Joe Chacon will serve as interim police chief of the Austin Police Department following the retirement of Brian Manley on March 28. City Manager Spencer Cronk is conducting a national search for Manley's permanent successor and plans to make an appointment by August. "We need to have a chief in short order," he said during a press conference on Monday.

Chacon is a 22-year veteran of the department, having started as a patrol officer in 1998. He moved through the ranks and was named assistant chief in 2016. He is third in command behind Chief of Staff Troy Gay, who some expected to be named interim chief. (When former chief Art Acevedo left for Houston in 2016, then-Chief of Staff Manley was named interim chief and later promoted after the Austin bombings in 2018.)

Both men have been finalists for other police chief positions across Texas and the U.S. Chacon was named one of four finalists for the top job in Waco earlier this year and one of two finalists for the chief position in Boise, Idaho, last year, according to local reports. Gay was one of five finalists considered to lead the Nashville Police Department in 2020.

City Council will decide whether to confirm Chacon as Manley's interim successor at its meeting on Thursday.

The search process

The national search for Manley's successor began Monday, Cronk announced in a memo to council outlining the process. He has hired Ralph Andersen & Associates, a California-based executive search firm that has assisted 35 other cities in their police chief searches and the city of Austin in a number of executive searches.

"I hope through this process that we collectively find the ideal candidate—one who collaborates with our community, instills trust in the workforce, works to achieve results from established Council policy, creates a culture of improvement and accountability, and is willing and able to lead the department in ways that lead to equitable public safety outcomes for all," he said in a statement.

The search process will take place in three phases, according to the memo. The first phase will entail creating a candidate profile with input from the community as well as city leadership and APD employees. The second phase will consist of outreach and recruiting. And the final phase will involve interviewing the top candidates and selecting the city's next chief. "The search will be transparent and inclusive, with engagement at every level," he said.

The community engagement component of this search will be different from that of the 2018 search process, when Manley, then-interim chief, was named lone finalist for the permanent role following his handling of the Austin bombings. "The difference between what we saw in 2018 and now is that we are starting with an open, national and dare I say international search," Cronk said.

Joya Hayes, director of human resources for the city of Austin, added that this time around community engagement will be considered from the start, including in the formation of a candidate profile, rather than only after a finalist has been chosen.

A rare opportunity

Manley announced his retirement last month amid an ongoing national debate over policing and after mass protests against police violence and racial injustice in Austin last summer. He has faced sustained criticism from local elected officials, criminal justice reform advocates and residents after APD officers seriously injured protesters over the summer. Four council members asked him to resign, Cronk faced pressure to demote him and the council voted unanimously to cut the police department's budget. Last August, the Austin Justice Coalition debuted a jingle, "No Confidence in You," as part of its campaign to get Manley to resign.

Thousands of protesters marched from Huston-Tillotson University to the Texas Capitol on June 7 in response to police violence and racial injustice. (Emma Freer)

The department has also come under fire in recent years for multiple officer-involved shootings, allegations of racism among its top ranks and reports of hazing at its training academy.

Manley said this criticism did not contribute to his decision to retire, but it will certainly color the search for his replacement. Acevedo, who previously led APD and recently announced he will lead the Miami Police Department, said the city's police reform efforts are deterring candidates from applying to chief positions. "People are hesitant to apply for cities with misguided, reacting city councils," he told Austonia earlier this month. "It's having an effect."

But city leaders, including District 4 Council Member Greg Casar and Cronk, say Manley's retirement presents a rare opportunity. "The Reimaging Public Safety process, budget decoupling and department restructuring, and, most recently, the announcement of Chief Brian Manley's retirement provides a unique opportunity to work with our community to bring new leadership that aligns with our values and our commitment to equity and community engagement," Cronk said in a statement.


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