AUSTIN (KXAN) — Wayne Sneed has been named as Austin ISD’s new police chief. The announcement was made at Thursday’s board work session by Austin ISD interim superintendent Anthony Mays.

Sneed is the first Black chief to serve the district. He’ll start leading the department of 76 officers on Aug. 1 at a time in which school safety is a high priority.

He’s been with the Austin ISD Police Department for the last ten years, most recently leading the mental health and community engagement unit. He also teaches law enforcement at Texas State University.

Sneed also has more than 40 years of experience, including as a former police officer in Austin and San Marcos, and he served as a Special Agent with the National Insurance Crime Bureau. He served as Director of Internal Affairs, Office of the Inspector General with Texas Health and Human Services as well.

Considering the tragedy of Uvalde, and recent budget changes in the AISD, the position announcement was likely met with relief.

At the start of the summer, AISD confirmed with KXAN that some of its police staff positions would be cut for the upcoming school year due to budget changes. No active patrol officers were cut, however, and the number of school resource officers did not change either.

The Austin ISD Police Association said then that the cuts are a “large step in the wrong direction,” according to a statement.

“While the positions cut were vacant, not filling those positions with certified police officers is what our association considers a large step in the wrong direction regarding school safety,” the statement reads in part. “The reduction includes funds allotted for police equipment and training. The cuts also impact the mental health component of the department.”

The new chief’s history

Sneed’s experience in the mental health unit also brings a unique perspective to the job.

The state allows officers to detain a person and take them to an inpatient mental health facility, regardless of age, if they believe there is an imminent risk the person will harm themselves or others. The law also requires officers to assess whether emergency detention is the least restrictive option necessary to provide effective treatment.

From 2017-2021, more than 1,500 minors in Austin were involuntarily committed on police orders. More than 90% were ordered by the Austin Police Department. (This figure does not include data from the Travis County Sheriff’s Office. The office provided a cost estimate for more than $4,000 to provide a count of peace officer emergency detentions involving minors.)  

Last year, the Austin Police Department started overhauling how it approaches training its officers. APD’s policy only allowed those who are certified as mental health officers, and on their Crisis Intervention Team, to order peace officer emergency detentions.

The department set a goal to get all its officers certified as mental health officers by 2022. But, the change APD is going through is not required by law.

Sneed, who was over the mental health unit for AISD, called that a recipe for disaster. In his own unit, they required all officers to be certified mental health officers.

“From my perspective, yes, yes — every officer should be certified. When you look at just the statistics on mental health calls — we have never declined in our calls for mental health services. When I talk to other departments, they have not seen a decline. Matter of fact, they’ve seen an increase,” Sneed said.

How it happened

As is customary in Austin ISD when hiring leaders, a committee including principals and district leaders made a recommendation to Dr. Mays after interviewing external and internal candidates.

A press release from AISD said that Sneed knows the community well and has always wanted to be in law enforcement.

“I became a police officer to help,” Sneed said. “I knew I wanted to be a police officer from the time I was 5 or 6 years old.”