How public will the Austin Police chief search process be?

Investigations

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Now that the job is temporarily filled, the longer and broader search begins to find Austin’s next police chief.

To start, people can now go to this website and provide feedback on the qualities they want in the city’s next top cop. Austin city leadership says the responses will be considered before a national search firm vets top candidates for the job.

Attorney Bill Aleshire is taking more of a wait-and-see approach.

“It sounds good they’re doing a template for what they’d like to see in a police chief, but that doesn’t guarantee transparency,” said Aleshire, whose work focuses on government accountability.

In 2017, Aleshire brought up transparency concerns in Austin’s city manager search process before Spencer Cronk was hired for the job. At that time, we reported that city officials wouldn’t reveal who they were interviewing for the position.

“Those job applications are absolutely public information,” Aleshire told us Monday. “They should be promptly disclosed.”

Austin has provided a timeline of its search for the next APD Chief. According to the timeline, a candidate profile will be developed based on community feedback in March and April. Outreach and recruiting will take place in April, May and June, with selection expected in August, according to the timeline.

“This process will start immediately, and will rely heavily on extensive engagement with the community, the City’s leadership, and the employees of the police department,” reads a memo sent by City Manager Spencer Cronk to Austin City Council. “The engagement will occur during all phases of the search.”

Other cities and best practices

To learn more about best practices for a police chief search, we spoke with Bob Harrison of the RAND Corporation, which is a research nonprofit that oversees the Center for Quality Policing.

He says because of a growing trust gap between the police and many communities, an open process with more public scrutiny for chief candidates has become more the trend, rather than a top-down approach.

“It would be more important than it was in the past, to ensure whoever was hired is somebody leaders in the community can have confidence in,” he said.

Two cities tell us they added additional layers of transparency to their latest police chief searches.

The new Dallas police chief began last month. A city spokesperson tells KXAN there were 55 organizations involved in the interview process, including representatives of neighborhood and business, religious and non-profit, police oversight and cultural diversity, law enforcement and city executive staff. The spokesperson added that candidate forums were broadcast for the first time.

The newest police chief in San Jose, California started Monday. A city spokesperson said there were nine community meetings held during the search, including two in Spanish and two in Vietnamese. There were also community surveys published in five different languages.

“The process was different from the last recruitment we held in 2012,” said the San Jose spokesperson. “This time around, it was a very public process with many opportunities for the community to be involved.”

On Jan. 25, the City of Fort Worth announced it picked Neil Noakes as its new police chief. Noakes was an internal hire with two decades in the city’s ranks. He rose to the top of a 50-applicant pool with six finalists, including Austin Police Department Chief of Staff Troy Gay. Fort Worth employed a recruiter,  Strategic Government Resources, to assist with the search, according to media reports. Fort Worth’s previous chief Ed Kraus announced his retirement in July 2020 about six months before Noakes was picked. 

City officials in Miami held a press conference March 15 announcing their decision to hire former Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo.

Acevedo spent over four years heading Texas’ largest municipal police force in Houston. Prior to that he led APD. Miami’s last police chief, Jorge Colina, announced in mid-September that he would retire near the beginning of the 2021, so the announcement of Acevedo’s hire took about six months.  According to a report by the Miami Herald, City Manager Art Noriega recruited Acevedo, and Acevedo “never formally applied” for the chief of police job.

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