AUSTIN (KXAN) — Austin City Manager Spencer Cronk selected Interim Austin Police Department Chief Joseph Chacon as the permanent chief on Wednesday. The choice still needs to be approved by Austin City Council.
Chacon, who was chosen to serve as interim chief in late March, said as with police departments nationwide, APD is in a state of change. At an introduction Wednesday, Chacon explained he hopes to be a part of a new phase for APD.
“APD is at a crossroads — as are many police departments in this country. The department faces unprecedented challenges. APD’s relationship with the community needs a reset. I can certainly understand the feelings that some in our community have towards the police department… Although I don’t think this is the way that all in our community feel, I strongly feel that it is my responsibility to make sure that none in our community feel that way.”APD Chief Joseph Chacon
He beat out two other finalists for the job from the Los Angeles and Dallas police departments.
Chacon, who has nearly 30 years of law enforcement experience, took over the department as interim chief after former APD Chief Brian Manley announced his retirement in February. On Wednesday, he related changes he made during that time to what he’ll do in the future.
Changes made under Chacon’s interim period include a change in the timeliness and transparency of video footage of officer-involved incidents where civilians are harmed. Previously, videos wouldn’t be released publicly for up to 60 days. Chacon said he has gotten that timeline to under 10 days.
“This change represents a strong commitment to transparency that I feel is in line with community expectations,” said Chacon.
The chief also explained the department’s cadet classes have transitioned from a “para-military” environment to one based on community understanding.
Chacon has been with the department since 1998 and has served in several roles before becoming interim chief, including police officer, detective, sergeant, lieutenant, commander and assistant chief of police.
According to application files previously obtained by KXAN, Chacon had worked in El Paso from 1992-98 as a police officer, patrol officer and detective. He has a bachelor of applied arts and sciences degree from Midwestern State University and a master of public administration degree from the University of Texas at Arlington’s School of Urban and Public Affairs.
“After hearing from so many of you, and following an extensive and rigorous recruitment process, I’m confident Interim Chief Joseph Chacon is the right person to lead our city’s police department to achieve results, build trust and transparency, and accomplish equitable public safety outcomes for all Austin residents and visitors,” said Cronk.
Chas Moore with the Austin Justice Coalition tells KXAN Chacon was not his first choice for Austin’s next police chief, but said he “can live with it.”
The AJC met with Chacon at the beginning of his interim role and said he was open to change.
“I don’t think Chacon is going to bend to everything folks like me and groups like mine will put on his desk,” Moore said. “But I do think if it’s a reasonable proposal in the name of anti-racism and getting rid of the toxic culture within APD, I think he’s willing to listen to that.”
The city announced Chacon had made it to the final stages of the interview process last month, along with two other candidates from the Los Angeles and Dallas police departments. All three candidates had the chance to speak to the community and answer questions at two meet and greets.
On Wednesday, Austin City Council member Greg Casar responded to the announcement, saying in part: “As we make our way through the confirmation process in the next week, I and my colleagues will be asking important follow-up questions to Interim Chief Chacon – including about improvements to police oversight, enhancements to victim services, and plans for further reduction in violent crime. The public should know his thoughts on key issues, after which we will deliberate and vote at our Sept. 30 Council meeting.”
Council member Mackenzie Kelly said while she appreciates Chacon’s years of service, she’s also disappointed in his selection.
“We had a unique opportunity to bring in a fresh perspective to help address critical issues related to departmental morale, staffing, and community engagement efforts… The results of an internal survey conducted by the Austin Police Association show a clear mandate from their membership for an external candidate,” said Kelly. “This, in addition to the ongoing barrage of criticism from select community activists about the current culture at APD, makes it impossible for me to cast my vote in support of an internal candidate. I don’t believe doing so would reflect the shared values of the police and the community.”
Council member Alison Alter said she has “many outstanding questions” for Chacon.
“The choice of our police chief is perhaps the most important vote we will take as a Council. While I am grateful for Interim Chief Chacon’s service and leadership, I have many outstanding questions and need more information from him before I make a decision,” Alter said in a statement. “I want to delve more deeply into his vision for the future of APD and how he plans to realize it, as well as how he plans to improve our sexual assault response, cadet and officer training, police oversight, and response times. I look forward to these conversations, community input, and council deliberations. “
Chacon has already guided APD through a few large-scale incidents during his time as interim chief, most notably a triple murder in April and a mass shooting in downtown in June that killed one and injured 14 others.
He has also overseen changes within the police department, in regard to staffing and the officer shortage.
Austin Mayor Steve Adler responds
Mayor Steve Adler called Chacon’s nomination “a smart move,” saying in part:
“Chief Chacon has demonstrated a focus on keeping our city safe and an understanding of our community. He has already begun shepherding in many positive changes to begin the effort to ensure every community member feels safe, protected, and heard.”Austin Mayor Steve Adler
Adler said he’s looking forward to continuing the process of Council approval next week.
Austin Police Association responds
In a statement Wednesday afternoon, Austin Police Association, which is separate from APD, expressed displeasure with Chacon’s selection.
The APA said it had made clear it wanted another candidate, Emada Tingirides, who was external.
“The Austin Police Association is disappointed that with this selection; City Council did not seize the opportunity for change that officers and the community were ready and willing to bring about. We remain committed to doing all that we can to make the Austin Police Department one of the premier law enforcement agencies in the United States yet again, despite the uphill battle with leadership we may face.”Austin Police Association