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Acevedo won't be taking on police oversight role in Austin, but should someone?

Art Acevedo, seen here in 2017, left his job as head of the Austin Police Department in 2016 to go to Houston. He later became police chief in Miami.
Jorge Sanhueza-Lyon
KUT News
Art Acevedo, seen here in 2017, left his job as head of the Austin Police Department in 2016.

While Art Acevedo will not be taking a City Hall job overseeing Austin Police, there's general consensus something needs to be done to get the department back on track.

What that looks like is the question.

The Austin Police Department has more than 350 vacancies. The union has been in a stalemate with the city over a long-term labor contract. The department has been without an official chief since Joseph Chacon retired in September.

Several City Council members told KUT they’d like to explore a few different options, including creating a position to solely focus on the police department.

“It is clear that we have persistent issues within the department — whether it's training, staffing or other things — that require some kind of new action,” Council Member Ryan Alter said. “But I don’t believe there is a silver bullet answer here."

Council Member Chito Vela said the idea of having an assistant city manager who just focuses on the police is interesting and should be discussed further. But it should not be Acevedo.

"The public safety portfolio is huge," he said. "There is so much going on there, and it's really too much for one person to manage.”

Call for transparency

Council members say one thing is clear, though: They will have more input into whatever decision is made, as will law enforcement members and the public.

Council Member Mackenzie Kelly told KUT giving APD a dedicated person to help them focus and work on the issues they have would be extremely helpful.

"But I also don't agree with the process that the city manager used," she said.

City Council members said last week they were left out of the decision to hire Acevedo and were informed about it an hour before the announcement was made. Some law enforcement leaders were also left in the dark.

Austin has what’s called a council-manager form of government, which allows the city manager to make personnel decisions without council approval. The council hires and fires the city manager.

Still, council members say there should be more transparency and communication with these kinds of decisions.

“I understand our city charter and understand that [interim City Manager Jesús Garza] has the capacity and ability to make personnel decisions," Kelly said. "But it struck me as an area of opportunity that he could have given council more lead time on."

She is calling on Garza to give council at least five business days' notice about executive-level positions — like an assistant city manager — with salaries that exceed $200,000. Acevedo would have earned $271,000 a year.

“I obviously don't want to meddle in personnel decisions, but at the very minimum, notification is within the realm of council to request," Kelly said, "and I think that’s important."

Moving forward

Council Member Zo Qadri assured residents the right person will be chosen if the city decides to move forward with hiring an assistant city manager to oversee APD.

“I think whoever is in charge of that needs to have the trust of the community, the council and APD,” Qadri said. “I didn't believe Acevedo was that person. ... But I am glad we got the resolution we did and look forward to moving ahead on this issue.”

Acevedo served as head of the city's police department from 2007 until 2016, when he left to take a job as police chief in Houston. He also worked in Miami and Colorado.

While he was Austin’s chief it came to light that several hundred rape evidence kits had gone untested. Some of those cases dated back to the 1990s, but Acevedo was responsible for making sure that work got done.

It took two years for the city to finish testing the kits. The city also settled a nearly $1 million lawsuit with 15 women who alleged it mishandled their sexual assault cases. As part of that settlement, the city on Tuesday publicly apologized to sexual assault survivors.

City Council members said they were relieved Acevedo’s appointment did not move forward and are focusing on getting APD the resources it needs.

Mayor Kirk Watson did not respond to a request for comment for this story, but stood by Garza's decision this week.

Garza said in a memo Tuesday that he will assess the options available to the city over the next few days.

Luz Moreno-Lozano is the Austin City Hall reporter at KUT. Got a tip? Email her at Follow her on X @LuzMorenoLozano.
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