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Crime & Justice

Austin Taps Interim Chief Joseph Chacon As Its Next Police Chief

Interim Austin Police Chief Joseph Chacon speaks at a panel.
Gabriel C. Pérez
/
KUT
Joseph Chacon, who has been serving as interim Austin police chief since April, has been selected to serve permanently in that position.

Joseph Chacon, who has been serving as interim Austin police chief since April, has been nominated to take on the position permanently, City Manager Spencer Cronk confirmed Wednesday.

The decision is still pending approval from the Austin City Council at its meeting next week.

Chacon, who has been with the Austin Police Department for more than 20 years, was named interim police chief after Austin Police Chief Brian Manley stepped down in March.

“I am extremely excited and humbled by this amazing opportunity,” Chacon said in a statement. “Austin PD is at a critical juncture, and I am honored that the City Manager is showing the trust in me to lead this amazing organization. I will be engaging our department employees and our community to make sure we are moving forward in the best way possible.”

Chacon began his law enforcement career in 1992 with the El Paso Police Department before APD hired him six years later. He has been with the department ever since, working as a sergeant in the Homicide and Internal Affairs Units and overseeing the Austin Regional Intelligence Center, a 10-county law enforcement surveillance and data-sharing partnership. Chacon eventually became an assistant police chief, a role he held before being named interim chief.

Chacon was selected for the permanent job over two other finalists, Dallas Police Department Assistant Chief Avery Moore and Los Angeles Police Department Deputy Chief Emada Tingirides. Dozens of other candidates from across the country applied for the job.

“After hearing from so many of you, and following an extensive and rigorous recruitment process, I’m confident Interim Chief Joseph Chacon is the right person to lead our City’s police department to achieve results, build trust and transparency, and accomplish equitable public safety outcomes for all Austin residents and visitors," Cronk said in a statement.

At a time when community groups are calling for police reform, this is the second time Cronk has chosen an Austin police veteran to lead the department. Cronk nominated Manley, who had been with the department for nearly three decades, to serve as police chief in 2018.

In March, more than a dozen criminal and racial justice organizations signed a letter urging Cronk to nominate someone from outside APD to the interim chief role while he searched for a permanent replacement for Manley.

Some members of these same organizations on Wednesday questioned the logic of choosing someone from within the department to make changes.

“It’s very unclear to what extent Chief Chacon has the ability [and] willingness to make any substantive changes to the way policing’s done,” Chris Harris, policy director at the Austin Justice Coalition, told KUT.

At a news conference to discuss Chacon's nomination, Cronk said he did not set out to choose an internal candidate for the top job.

"The process played it out and this was the right person for the job," he said.

Chacon said he would continue several initiatives he began during his six months in the interim role, including a sped-up timeline for releasing dashboard and body camera video footage when officers injure and kill someone and a program directed at preventing gun crime in the city.

However, Chacon did not announce any new plans for the department Wednesday.

"I have not put any new initiatives that I'm ready to announce today on the table," he said. "But we are looking always to innovate. We're looking to be responsive to our community."

When asked how he plans to increase trust among the Hispanic community, Chacon, who identifies as Hispanic and speaks Spanish, said he's been working with the Mexican Consulate to help educate immigrants about policing in the U.S.

"I have to make sure that I have officers and detectives who can speak Spanish, that are able to make those relationships with our community," he said. "And then to find targeted programs to help educate how the Latino community can keep itself safe."

If Chacon is confirmed by a council vote, the city will not have the power to fire him. That power, which lies only with Cronk, is limited by state law. According to laws governing local governments, a police chief can only be removed and then placed in a role in the department they had prior to their promotion; in other words, Cronk would only have the power to demote Chacon.

The issue of the limits of Cronk’s powers came up last year, when city council members called for then-Chief Manley to resign over what they said was his mishandling of police response to protests against racial injustice. Cronk agreed to keep Manley in the top job.

Chacon is slated to take leadership of the police department at a time when the city is seeing a rise in crime and seeking reforms to policing.

More than 60 people have been killed in Austin this year, the most recorded since the city started keeping tabs of homicide statistics.

Last year’s protests over police violence sparked a debate over the police department’s budget, tactics and institutional racism. The City Council cut $20 million from the city’s police budget, reallocating the money to other city departments.

The move sparked backlash from the state, which passed a law this year that penalizes cities that cut police funding, and local political group Save Austin Now pushed for a ballot measure that will ask voters in November to approve a mandatory minimum for police staffing.

Corrected: September 22, 2021 at 12:54 PM CDT
Correction: An earlier version of this story misstated the amount of money the Austin City Council reallocated from Austin police's budget to other city departments. It was $20 million.
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