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Austin Police Chief Brian Manley Steps Down After 30 Years With The Department

Austin Police Chief Brian Manley
Julia Reihs
Austin Police Chief Brian Manley is stepping down after three decades with the department.

Police Chief Brian Manley will step down from the Austin Police Department on March 28, City Manager Spencer Cronk said in a memo to City Council on Friday morning. Manley has served as chief for nearly three years.

“Some ask, ‘Why now?’ There’s no absolute reason why it’s now. For me, this is right," Manley said at a news conference Friday at APD headquarters. “It is time for me to pursue that next opportunity, and I don’t feel that I can give my full attention to the duties of the chief of police as demanded if my heart is now looking for that next opportunity."

Cronk called Manley's leadership "inspiring."

"I want to thank Chief Manley for his leadership and service to the City of Austin," Cronk said in his memo. "He has been a dedicated public servant to this community for three decades and has proudly led the men and women of our police department during incredibly challenging times."

The city manager said he will immediately start a national search for Manley's replacement. In the meantime, he will appoint an interim chief who will need to be confirmed by City Council members.

On Friday, Manley denied that his decision to step down was related to a ramping up of criticism of his leadership over the past year. Some activists for racial justice say he was a barrier to change within a department that has been accused of undue violence and racism. Some council members, meanwhile, felt Manley was too slow to implement their progressive policy directions.

“That [criticism] was not part of this decision. Anyone who steps into the role as a police chief, you know there is going to be criticism; this is not a job for the faint of heart," Manley said. "If you go about this job with the intent of pleasing everyone, you are guaranteed to fail.”

Manley served as interim police chief following Art Acevedo's departure as the head of the department in 2016. About a year and a half later, council members gave Manley the permanent role following the police department's takedown of the Austin bomber in March 2018.

At his confirmation months later, council members hailed Manley for his leadership, saying he had secured the public's confidence.

“You are a servant leader and you have my complete confidence, or I have complete confidence in you,” then-Mayor Pro Tem Kathie Tovo told him.

That confidence quickly eroded.

After an assistant chief at the department was accused of using a racist term for Black people in late 2019, questions arose about what Manley knew of the allegations.

Council members voted to hire a third party to investigate bigotry within the force. At that vote, then-Mayor Pro Tem Delia Garza said she had lost faith in Manley's ability to lead.

“I was an early supporter of Chief Manley, and I’ve been incredibly disappointed,” she said. “Repeated incidences by our department have really shaken my faith in many ways, and in some ways, I've lost a lot of faith.”

A month later, the City Council asked the police department to stop citing people for low-level marijuana offenses after a state hemp law left the door open for prosecutors to stop pursuing these cases. Manley said police would not follow council's wishes and would continue abiding by drug laws. (He changed his mind half a year later, announcing police would no longer cite people for these type of offenses.)

Racial justice activists began publicly calling for city leaders to fire Manley last spring after an Austin police officer killed Mike Ramos, a Black and Hispanic man, during a standoff outside an apartment complex.

Under state law, a police chief can only be demoted, and the power to do that resides in the hands of the city manager. Cronk said he would not demote Manley, however. Calls for him to be fired or to resign escalated over the summer.

During protests against racial injustice, Austin police officers shot bags filled with lead pellets at demonstrators, seriously injuring at least two people. After people who attended the protests detailed the violence at a City Council meeting, several council members said they'd "lost faith" in Manley's ability to lead and asked him to resign.

Chas Moore, founder of the Austin Justice Coalition, said he was happy when he heard Friday's announcement that Manley was leaving the department.

"After Mike Ramos and then all the things that came after that, we were saying that we believe Chief Manley should be fired. After learning that he couldn’t be fired, we believed he should resign," he said. "So, it is some news of relief."

On Friday, Manley acknowledged his departure comes as the public is questioning the role of police officers. Austin, at times, has been at the center of this examination; cadet training classes are currently on hold as the city completes an audit of materials used to teach new officers, and council members last August reallocated roughly $20 million away from the police budget with the promise of more cuts to come.

For the past six months, Cronk's office has been holding community meetings as part of a "Reimagining Public Safety" process that city leaders say will try to define what the job of police is.

“I know the policing profession is under scrutiny and it’s under reimagination and redesign, and I know a lot of that is taking place here in Austin," Manley said Friday. "But I stand here with confidence knowing that APD will come out of this a strong agency and that we have positioned ourselves to do so.”

Manley said he plans to stay in Austin and is unsure if he'll stay in the public sector. He spent his entire law enforcement career with APD, beginning as a police officer in 1991.

Got a tip? Email Audrey McGlinchy at Follow her on Twitter @AKMcGlinchy.

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Audrey McGlinchy is KUT's housing reporter. She focuses on affordable housing solutions, renters’ rights and the battles over zoning. Got a tip? Email her at Follow her on Twitter @AKMcGlinchy.
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