A week ago interim Austin Police Chief Brian Manley was tapped by City Manager Spencer Cronk as the sole finalist to be the city’s new permanent police chief, and now Cronk and the city are engaged in a public input process before possibly bringing on Manley full-time.
Residents gathered in a rec center in East Austin last night to hear Manley's pitch for the future of policing in Austin.
Watch the full community forum with Manley here:
Johann Lall had nearly made up his mind about Manley when he came to hear him speak Monday night at the Turner-Roberts Recreation Center in Austin’s Colony Park neighborhood.
“I think he does a really good job of communicating with the public, which law enforcement is generally not that great at,” said Lall, who works for the Texas Department of Public Safety. But he still had some questions.
“I want to see what he plans as far as continuing to improve relations with the public and community policing,” said Lall.
Manley replaced former Austin Police Chief Art Acevedo, who left in November 2016 to head up the Houston Police Department. A nearly 28-year veteran of APD, Manley has degrees from the University of Texas at Austin and St. Edward’s University. As a police officer, he has worked in various departments including patrol, child abuse and homeland security.
The city announced it would convene two community forums so that Manley could outline his plan for the department and residents could ask questions. Though, Cronk has said the city could still open up a national search for more candidates.
Standing beneath a basketball net at the rec center, Manley recited what he called a "vision statement" for the future of policing in Austin.
“We want to be a department that is trusted and respected by all and that collaborates with our community to make Austin the safest city in America," Manley said.
To explain the first part of this statement – “trusted and respected by all” – Manley gave an example.
“Austin has a very large immigrant population, many of whom may have come here from countries that maybe the corruption in policing is what led them here in the first place,” he said. “And to expect them to come here and have trust with American policing … We have to break down some of that and really build trust within those communities.”
He said building that trust with a focus on community outreach and policing would make Austin the safest city in the country.
The event also focused heavily on Manley's handling of the serial bombings in Austin earlier this year, which killed Stefan House and Draylen Mason and seriously injured four others.
KLRU News and Public Affairs Director Judy Maggio, who hosted the event, said the case must have been “bittersweet” for Manley’s career. While some Austinites lauded Manley's handling of the three-week manhunt, others criticized how the department handled the first bombing victim’s death, which was deemed a one-off incident, as well as Manley’s characterization of the bomber as a “challenged young man.”
“There was great work done here,” said Manley. “I made some comments throughout that multi-week event that – had I had the foresight to realize how they would have been taken – I absolutely would have described them differently.”
When asked by an audience member how APD could better handle mental health calls, he pointed toward a 2017 pilot program the department did centered on homeless outreach.
“We have officers dedicated to meeting them where they’re at and trying to link them to services that can let them get better so that we don’t end up having a call for service on them,” said Manley.
As the event wrapped up an audience member suggested the city give Manley the permanent job, which was met with a standing ovation. But Kristina Brown, co-founder and president of Counterbalance ATX, a non-profit that works to empower marginalized communities, had more questions.
“Like how exactly do you plan to do this?” she said at the end of the event. “As opposed to just rhetoric of how we need more transparency … We want to see how you plan to improve [policing] because that’s really what a job interview is about. They ask you to come to a table with your plan.”
Brown said she would be at the second community forum on May 17 at KLRU's studio to ask more questions.