Austin Identifies Top Seven Candidates for Next Police Chief

Austin Police Department Downtown headquarters (Photo by John Anderson)

City Manager Spencer Cronk has announced the seven candidates on the shortlist for becoming Austin Police Department‘s next chief.

Interim APD Chief Joseph Chacon, the lone contender with prior experience in Austin, is joined by Anne Kirkpatrick, Avery L. Moore, Celeste Murphy, Mirtha V. Ramos, Gordon Ramsay, and Emada E. Tingirides.

The city did not set specific parameters around gender or racial identity in seeking police chief applications (doing so would be illegal), but it has been widely believed among local criminal justice reformers and some police backers that Austin’s next police chief should not be a white man. (It appears that only Ramsay, currently police chief in Wichita, Kansas, fits that description).

Hiring a woman or person of color would represent a symbolic departure from the tenure of former APD Chief Brian Manley – and an important step in signifying to the public and department personnel that the city is committed to continuing its effort to “reimagine public safety.” To that end, five of the seven candidates are people of color, four are women, and three are women of color.

Chacon’s advancement to the final stage is also somewhat of a surprise. When Manley retired, the thought of one of his assistant chiefs assuming the throne sounded unlikely. The culture of fear and retaliation described in the third-party Tatum report was attributed to the entire fifth floor at APD Downtown headquarters, but thus far, Chacon has impressed his skeptics. He reportedly has a better working relationship than did Manley with City Council offices and with the civilian department heads within city government who work alongside him.

Chacon also appears to be on board with changes to department policies (take, for example, an update to the Critical Incident Release policy that reduced the time before APD must release videos of police shootings and other incidents from 60 days to 10 days) and the broader effort to “reimagine” local police culture. In March, Chacon offered testimony before the Texas Legislature in defense of Council’s decision to reallocate some police department funding to other purposes; later that night, he was named interim chief.

APD Interim Chief Joseph Chacon in July 2021 (Photo by John Anderson)

Kirkpatrick, who has worked in law enforcement for nearly four decades, most recently served as the chief of the Oakland Police Department. In February 2020, Kirkpatrick was fired without cause after a unanimous vote by the civilians on Oakland’s Police Commission. Kirkpatrick later filed a federal whistleblower lawsuit against the city, alleging that her firing was a result of retaliation against her for exposing corruption and misconduct within the commission.

In her cover letter submitted to Ralph Andersen & Associates, the executive recruiters hired to help the city with its chief search, Kirkpatrick cited her experience working in cities with high violent crime rates (Memphis and Chicago, in addition to Oakland) as one of her strengths.

The only other finalist with law enforcement experience in Texas is Moore, who has spent 30 years working his way up the chain of command at the Dallas Police Department. Currently, Moore serves as the department’s assistant chief overseeing investigations. In the past year, Moore has lost out on chief jobs in Columbus, Ohio, and in Dallas, where he applied to replace former Dallas Police Chief Reneé Hall, who was one of several major city chiefs to resign in 2020 following the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis that sparked nationwide protests.

“We must generate ideas on how to best introduce a re-tooled and transforming Austin Police Department to every community within the city,” Moore wrote in his letter to the executive recruiters. “We must discuss recruitment within the Austin Police Department,” Moore added.

Murphy is one of two Georgia-based cops to make the finalist list. She joined the Atlanta Police Department in 1997 as a patrol officer and has worked her way up to deputy chief, where she oversees the city’s Community Services Division. Murphy noted in her cover letter that in her division, she specifically tasks officers under her command to maintain contacts with community stakeholders.

“I understand the importance and value of maintaining proactive community engagement,” wrote Murphy. “I know that a police department must include community ideas and accept community support, to be a success,” she added later in the letter.

Hiring a woman or person of color would represent a symbolic departure from the tenure of former APD Chief Brian Manley – and an important step in signifying to the public and department personnel that the city is committed to continuing its effort to “reimagine public safety.”

Ramos, chief of DeKalb County Police Department just outside Atlanta, is the other finalist from Georgia. Ramos started her law enforcement career in 1997 at the Miami-Dade Police Department, where she worked until she was appointed DeKalb County PD’s chief of police in 2019. In a list of accomplishments submitted with her application, Ramos highlighted the development of a pilot Community Service Aide (CSA) position she helped create. The CSA is a civilian employee within the police department tasked with responding to low-level calls for service, which is a goal Austin’s criminal justice advocates have of establishing here locally. (The DeKalb program hired two additional CSAs in 2021.)

Ramos and Chacon are also the only two finalists who speak Spanish.

Ramsay is the lone white, male finalist. With 15 years under his belt, Ramsay has the most experience as a police chief; for nearly five years, he has led the Wichita Police Department in Kansas’ biggest city (at roughly 400,000 people, about 40% of Austin’s population). Ramsay’s cover letter includes somewhat dubious claims that because of Ramsay’s success in implementing community policing strategies, local criminal justice activists now call for more police resources.

“A vocal activist who was actively planning anti-police protests when I arrived recently told me that my community efforts had made him ‘irrelevant,’” wrote Ramsay. One of the successes Ramsay highlights is the establishment of the city’s first civilian review board over police activity.

Lifelong Los Angeles resident and 26-year L.A. Police Department veteran Tingirides rounds out the finalists. About one year ago, Tingirides was named deputy chief and commanding officer of the newly formed “Community Safety Partnership Bureau” at LAPD, which focuses on trust-building with communities experiencing high crime rates; Tingirides was also one of the CSP’s founding officers when the new division was formed in 2011.

In an interview with KCRW just before assuming her deputy chief role, Tingirides described what role the CSP plays in Los Angeles’ struggle for more equitable policing. “Part of what the CSP program is about is reaching out to [people skeptical of law enforcement] and attempting to build relationships. … There are difficult relationships and there is conflict and there is tension. And that is the focus that the CSP officers rely on to change.”

Now Austin’s various stakeholder groups will begin their own scrutiny of the seven finalists, with more opportunities for the community to provide input as the candidate interview process gets underway in the next few weeks. Cronk hopes to hire one of the seven before the end of this August.