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Updated: Thursday, 19 Jul 2012, 11:34 AM CDT
Published : Thursday, 19 Jul 2012, 8:32 AM CDT
AUSTIN (KXAN) - Thursday marks the five-year anniversary to the day Austin Police Department Chief Art Acevedo took his oath of office to lead the more than 1,600 men and women in blue.
The head of the massive police force joined KXAN News Today to talk about the triumphs and challenges of his career and the department that's made his amazing experience in Austin possible.
"It was a whirlwind day, but it was a great day – probably one of the highlights of my life for me and my family. And we were pretty happy that day," said Acevedo, remembering his first day on the job.
And even amid the excitement, he admits there was a lot of work from the get-go. The main task: building the relationship the community had with APD.
Along the way, Acevedo has made promises of being very visible, engaged and transparent. And those, he said, are promises he's kept.
"We’ve become more efficient. We’ve really become an intelligence-led policing department, data-driven police department," he said. "Consequently, we have officers that, despite a budget that is a pretty slim budget in terms of real dollars, we’re still reducing crime. And it’s because of that partnership with the community."
And yet, he said with a chuckle that his biggest accomplishment is still being alive to tell about it, surviving those five years.
Department of Justice investigation
From the onset, he inherited the U.S. Department of Justice investigation he was quite frankly excited about.
"Because they actually confirmed and affirmed my observations as the incoming chief," he said. "The validation they provided helped me really navigate the change."
And the validation came from the same DOJ that put a lot of departments around the country under consent decree.
Following criticism by civil rights groups amid some high-profile use of force cases, that federal investigation probed a department that -- at the time -- seemed frequently pitted against the community, particularly East Austin.
The extensive, nearly four-year-long investigation ended May 30, 2011, when DOJ officials wrote in a report that they did not find reasonable cause to believe APD has used practices that violate constitutional rights.
"I want to remind everybody what they found: That we do not engage in a pattern and practice of violating people’s constitutional rights as it relates to the way we police and as the way it related to our use of deadly force," Acevedo was diligent about pointing out Thursday. "There’s facts, and there’s people just believing what they want to believe. We are a very controlled department, especially when you compare us to other major cities around the country."
DOJ officials did, however, offer some recommendations, which Mayor Lee Leffingwell at the time said were "minor."
DOJ's four recommendations
"And we're a much better department as a result," said Acevedo.
As for the critics who contend the chief is jumps the gun to justify the actions of his police officers, Acevedo said there's much more than meets the eye.
"What people don’t understand is that when we go to the scene, I don’t go there just to say 'hi' to people," he said. "I go there to look with my own eyes at the evidence."
He also evaluates people’s demeanor and listens to what they’re saying -- always asking questions of the officers at the scene. That's when, he said, you get a real feel from the onset of exactly what they're working with.
"Show me one where the evidence, the grand jury process and the entire process showed that we made the wrong call," challenged Acevedo.
He used the high-profile, officer-involved shooting of Nathaniel Sanders in May 2009 involving then-APD officer Leonardo Quintana as an example. He said his department was pretty comfortable with their initial assessment about the base of everything they saw that day.
And he remembers being initially very cautious about the second passenger, Sanders, because there was "a lot to look at."
"The bottom line is if we say something at the beginning [and] it turns out not to be true, we’re going to turn around and make the right call," he said.
Will he stay in the capital city?
Acevedo said people always tease him about being a "rockstar," among other things. Yet, he said the one thing he's not is a fool.
"I’m not a fool. I know that I’m one controversial way from being on the unemployment line because people don’t remember the body of work. They just remember the last major incident," he said.
He said he's happy in Austin, as is his family, but admitted there have been opportunities
he's flirted with -- a short-lived rendezvous his wife ends.
"She's put her foot down and said, 'Absolutely not. I love Austin,'" he said.
And it's a decision he's put his heart into as well, even amid his try for the Dallas chief position.
"I stayed ... and I changed my mind because the way the community responded and, most importantly, the way the men and women of the Austin Police Department responded," he said. "They, by and large, didn’t want me to leave, and that really touched my heart."
He'll continue doing what he's been doing: leading a department that fights crime.
There is one thing to keep in mind, however. Austin is growing, landing the No. 13 spot for largest U.S. cities -- recently outgrowing San Francisco. The city even beats out Seattle, Atlanta and Boston, to name a few.
"And people act like we’re a small, college sleepy town," he said. "My biggest fear is that if we don’t wake up and smell the growth, smell the reality, we’re going to lose the essence of what’s Austin. And that’s that it’s a very safe city."
There are 15 fresh faces on the force after one of the department's smallest cadet classes graduated Friday.
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