AUSTIN (KXAN) — The search for a new Austin Police Chief has begun, and they city’s vowing to make it more public this time around.
Monday marked the first day Austinites got a chance to join a virtual community meeting, voicing what they think should be considered when hiring a new chief. The meeting was open to anyone who joined via Zoom.
The city has hired consulting firm Ralph Andersen & Associates to help recruit Austin’s new chief based on what the community wants. Since 2016, the city says the company has helped 35 cities across the country in their hiring process for police chiefs. The city says it’s also worked with Ralph Andersen & Associates to recruit for other city positions in the past.
In a series of virtual community meetings, Austin residents will be able to provide feedback to consultants from Ralph Andersen & Associates. This is a part of phase one out of three, according to the city’s timeline.
The consulting firm will also work with stakeholders and focus groups throughout the process. Consultants say the public will be invited to give additional input once finalists are chosen.
“This past year, we’ve seen the community in almost every state in the country, cry out for more transparency, and more community buy-in when it comes to how police departments move, and how they make decisions,” said Chas Moore, the executive director of the Austin Justice Coalition. “I definitely think people are going to take it seriously.”
This process has evolved over time, according the President of Austin’s Police Association, Ken Casaday.
In 2018, the city did use a consulting firm in its search for a police chief, but the community wasn’t invited to give input until then-Interim Chief Brian Manley was already the final candidate.
“Our Interim Chief, Brian Manley, was selected after going through a series of interviews around the city,” Casaday said. “What I remember about that is we just went to different places around the city to listen to citizens ask questions of Chief Manley.”
Before that, Casaday said candidates from around the country would apply, and then a narrowed down group would interview with the city and stakeholders. There was no third-party involvement, with manager participation like this time around.
“We just want to make sure there’s a fair process,” Casaday said.
The goal this time is to involve the public much sooner, at the start of the recruiting process, helping shape what it looks like.
With more than 30 homicides in Austin, and in a climate where policing is often scrutinized, Moore is looking forward to the new selection process.
“I think people want to make sure we get the best bang for our buck, we get somebody that can be as transparent, as open and as communicative with the community as possible,” Moore said.
On Monday, several community members shared their concerns and feedback as part of that new, more open process.
“One of the things I would like to see in the new chief is that he or she have a track record of community policing,” said Gavino Fernandez Jr. an advocate in East Austin.
“One of the challenges is working with the mental health community,” added Rachel Gunner of Advocates for Social Justice Reform.
Andrea Black, who serves on a working group for the Reimagining Public Safety Task Force said, “A really strong leader who works with different community members in a holistic way is going to be critical, and who has a really strong anti-racist lens.”
Austinite Sammy Hall weighed in, as well, saying, “Whoever the new chief will be will have to come in with some background and some numbers on his attitude and how he perceives use of force.”
Ralph Andersen & Associates consultant Greg Nelson told those who tuned into Monday’s community feedback meeting that his firm will scrutinize how candidates have performed in those areas in the past.
“The rule of thumb is that the best predictor of future behavior is past behavior,” Nelson said.
Nelson added that his firm will work to recruit through diverse police associations nationwide.
“We have a very successful track record of placing women and minorities since 1972,” Nelson said. “It’s been a value of our firm since the very beginning.”
The city would not say whether current Interim Police Chief Joseph Chacon is a candidate, however the consulting firm says any internal candidates will go through the same application and interview process as everyone else.
Ralph Andersen & Associates is recruiting for several other police chief positions around the country at the same time. The firm is working with Columbus, Ohio, The University of New Mexico and five different cities in California: Bishop, Costa Mesa, Modesto, Santa Barbara and Santa Monica.
Meetings and times for public input
- Monday, May 17: 12 p.m. – 1 p.m.
- Monday, May 17: 6:30 pm – 7:30 pm
- Thursday, May 20: 9 a.m. – 10 a.m.
- Friday, May 21: 10 a.m. – 11 a.m.
- Friday, May 21: 2 p.m. – 3 p.m.
You can click this link to start the Zoom meeting during any of the above meeting times.
A city spokesperson said those who are unable to attend virtually can still submit feedback via SpeakUp Austin: Your Next Chief of Police Recruitment Process or send an email to Community@AustinTexas.gov.
According to the city’s timeline online, the selection for a new chief is expected to happen around August.