AUSTIN (KXAN) — The six-month-long process to find Austin Police Department’s new chief came to an end Thursday. Austin City Council members, just before 10:30 p.m., approved Joseph Chacon as Austin’s new police chief.
The vote was 9-2. Council members Alison Alter and Mackenzie Kelly were opposed.
The vote follows a six-month process that included several public forums, community surveys and meet-and-greets with candidates.
On Thursday evening, council members questioned Chacon for hours on crime and reform, victim services, sexual assault, staffing, department morale, collaboration with prosecutors and more.
“I am hopeful you will bring the needed cultural change to the department,” said District 10 council member Alison Alter, who expressed concern about the department’s handling of sexual assault cases and its treatment of victims.
“I will not let you down,” Chacon told council members.
On Thursday morning, council member Greg Casar released more than a dozen questions he still had for Chacon to ask during Thursday’s city council meeting.
Casar’s office told KXAN it has a working relationship with Chacon, but through the hiring process, the only time city council members were able to speak with police chief candidates and ask their questions was during the final meet-and-greet in August.
Alter also told KXAN last week she wanted to “delve more deeply” into sexual assault response, police oversight and more.
Early during the city council meeting, a few people spoke about Chacon’s appointment during public comment.
“Another reason that it is very important in a community where the population of Latinos is very, very high, is that we have someone at the helm that will be able to communicate with our immigrant community and our community of non-English speaking because that is very critical,” said Gavino Fernandez of LULAC East Austin.
Others voiced hesitation — the NAACP has been one of the most vocal opponents of Chacon’s appointment. President Nelson Linder told the council they did their own study of the finalists.
“During those analyses, we had people who were better qualified to do this kind of work,” he said.
Another big question is regarding the rules for internal hires. Casar points out “state law provides police chiefs hired internally cannot be terminated in the same way as external candidates.”
A concern that was echoed by another neighbor.
“The council should not approve Chacon without a clear plan from the manager on how to handle the issue of not being able to fire an internal hire,” said Joao Paulo Connolly. “You’re on a board, and your chief executive officer can never be fired, you know, that’s a terrible accountability relationship.”
How we got here
March: City Manager Spencer Cronk announces Joseph Chacon as new interim chief after Brian Manley’s retirement.
The city also released a survey asking Austinites to identify what kind of skills, characteristics and background they want to see in their next police chief. The city says they used those responses to create the criteria for the position.
April: The city says Cronk sought more feedback from community groups, “including five online community input meetings and constituent calls from the City’s 311 service. ”
May: The first of several virtual community meetings for citizens.
June: The city begins reviewing resumes. A total of 45 applied.
August: Chacon is one of three finalists for the position — the other two from Dallas and Los Angeles. Two public meet-and-greets followed that month. Casar’s office says they were able to interview candidates for the first and only time on Aug. 20.
September: On Sept. 22, Cronk announced his selection of Chacon as permanent chief, pending city council approval. On Sept. 30, council members approved Chacon’s appointment by a 9-2 vote.