APD veteran awaits City Council confirmation next week
By Austin Sanders, 4:20PM, Wed. Sep. 22, 2021
After officials in Boise, Idaho, and Waco, Texas, passed on the opportunity to make Joseph Chacon their new police chief in 2020 and 2021, respectively, City Manager Spencer Cronk has offered him the job here in Austin.
Chacon’s appointment, subject to City Council confirmation at its Sept. 30 meeting, concludes a six-month search process for former Austin Police Department Chief Brian Manley’s successor following his retirement earlier this spring. In the wake of Manley’s exit, Chacon was named APD’s interim chief – a surprising move given department Chief of Staff Troy Gay’s next-in-line status.
Still, Cronk’s offer of the permanent position comes as even more of a surprise to some observers, on account of criminal justice advocates and some council members who had pressed the city manager to find an outside hire. That push, in part, came from the belief among criminal justice reformers that an APD veteran like Chacon, who has more than two decades of experience at the department, would be too close to APD’s culture problems to bring about meaningful change.
Another reason reformers opposed an internal hire: Once Chacon is confirmed by Council, he can’t be fired from the job. That’s due to state law that allows a city manager to only demote – but not terminate – a public safety chief hired internally. It’s one reason why Manley held on to his job last year amidst the immense public pressure he and Cronk fell under after APD’s violent response to Black Lives Matter protests last summer.
Be that as it may, some advocates have been impressed by Chacon’s performance as interim chief, and there is hope that he will commit to Council’s vision to “reimagine public safety.”
In a statement, Chacon said, “I am extremely excited and humbled by this amazing opportunity. Austin PD is at a critical juncture, and I am honored that the City Manager is showing the trust in me to lead this amazing organization.”
Critical juncture is right – APD is enduring high rates of attrition while activists continue to press for a “reimagined” approach to public safety, with less emphasis on police patrol and more resources for alternative responses. Chacon will have to walk a fine line navigating the demands of each constituency.
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