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.
A teen driver in a Tesla Model X crashed into a traffic light and gas pump at a West Austin gas station early Thursday morning, knocking over the traffic light and setting the parking lot in flames.
The driver, a male under 18 years of age, who was determined by onsite police to be driving the $80,000 electric vehicle while under the influence of alcohol, was able to escape the car before it erupted in flames.
2600 Exposition, Tesla involved in collision with fire extending to awning of gas station. Fire under control. Crews working cool burning batteries. pic.twitter.com/2etyUkN3vb
— Austin Fire Info (@AustinFireInfo) August 12, 2021
Austin police said they responded to the crash at 1:22 a.m. at a Shell gas station in Tarrytown, 2701 Exposition Blvd. The Austin Fire Department was able to get the fire under control by around 2 a.m. after cooling the electric car's extremely flammable lithium battery, according to Fire Chief Thaier Smith.
"From a previous experience from other departments around the country and the state, we are aware of the issues when a Tesla burns," Smith said. "There are some other procedures. Normally you can put out a car fire with 500 to 1,000 gallons of water, but Tesla's may take up to 30,000-40,000 gallons of water, maybe even more, to extinguish the battery pack once it starts burning."
The driver was arrested for a DWI.
While the gas station building itself did not sustain damage, there was fire damage to the gas pump and a knocked over traffic light signal. Crews were seen cleaning up into 8 a.m. this morning.
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When Imani Williams woke up after a late-night UberEats shift, she found the $2,800 electric cargo bike she invested in was gone, despite locking the 75-pound bike and taking the battery inside the night before.
Williams is frustrated about how her case was handled after speaking with an Austin police officer. She says she wished the Austin Police Department had been more "efficient" in taking her report and had treated it with more urgency.
But her experience isn't unique. Several other victims of recent property crimes told the Bulldog that they too had difficulty making reports and were frustrated by a seeming lack of follow-up.
Read more at The Austin Bulldog.
At 3 a.m. Thursday morning, a group of thieves tied a strap from their truck to the doors of The Peddler, a bike shop on 5015 Duval St., and tried to pull the doors off the building, witnesses told Austin police. When the strap broke, they drove the truck through the door and stole at least four bikes worth at least $15,000 total, management said.
The break-in was the fifth time the store has been hit since the start of 2021, according to owner AJ Camp, who said the constant burglaries have left him with $75,000 worth of losses, of which his insurance has only covered $20,000.
"Before 2021—16 years of business—I've never once had a problem," Camp said. "It just keeps on happening. I'm waking up at night and can't sleep and I feel like I need to come down to the store, but I have kids. I can't just leave my kids to go sleep at my bike shop."
Camp is just one of many victims of a bicycle burglary spree that is sweeping across not only Austin but the entire state, according to local reports. Cycle Progression, Mellow Johnny's, Kyle Cyclery, Monkey Wrench, Buda Bike Co., Velorangutan and Trek Bicycle tell Austonia they have all been hit, many of them multiple times.
The biking industry has already been experiencing product shortages due to the pandemic, driving up prices. The carbon fiber wheels on one bike stolen from The Peddler were worth $2,000, Camp said.
With a family to take care of and stomaching a loss of around $50,000, Camp is one of many shop owners in various Facebook groups who say they are considering armoring up and sleeping in their stores to prevent further burglaries.
Velorangutan owner Wesley Hayslip said after two organized break-ins at his store, 3924 Woodbury Drive, he has friends who have offered to guard the store in shifts. Hayslip said he is out thousands of dollars and in the process of having bars put on his front door.
Owners believe the crimes are connected, but their suspicion remains unconfirmed. Hayslip said some people in forums have found their bikes for sale in Monterrey, Mexico.
"I knew it was coming because I had been watching the other shops getting broken into—there's an email chain," Hayslip said. "It's bigger than the guys that are breaking into the store, you know, there's a bigger organization going on."
Joe Ender, owner of North Lamar shop Monkey Wrench Bicycle Repair, said he has been forced to close his doors for good due to a combination of rising rent, three break-ins and high deductible costs for repairs. One break-in, when thieves stole three bikes, cost him $25,000. The store is open until the end of the month.
"It's affecting people's livelihoods," Ender said. "Eventually somebody is going to get tired of spending money on security and locks and bolting bikes to the floor and hiding bikes at their house and having to move them in and out every day just for somebody to defeat those things and continue to destroy property and rip doors off of buildings."
Monkey Wrench is one of many bike shops dealing with major theft. (Joe Ender/Facebook)
The three owners say they see little action from Austin police, whose average response time for urgent and emergency calls remain more than a minute longer than the citywide target, according to a recent APD presentation. Austin police officials attribute the slow response times to staffing shortages, which predate City Council's decision to defund the department last August.
Both Hayslip and Ender reported that they were able to make it to their stores faster than police on at least one occasion. "I live just right here in this area. (There) used to be a presence of APD (and now) you see nobody around to prevent it, and businesses being broken into and the rise of gun violence and stabbings and stupid stuff going on in our no-longer-town."