Why Is Art Acevedo Back Overseeing APD?

Art Acevedo in 2017 (Photo by Jana Birchum)

Art Acevedo, a controversial former chief of the Austin Police Department, is now an assistant city manager at City Hall with a $271,000-a-year salary, according to reporting by Tony Plohetski at the Statesman.

The daily said Acevedo will serve as a liaison between the Austin Police Department and interim City Manager Jesús Garza, helping APD handle staffing issues and the ongoing police reforms, or lack thereof, demanded by the community. He may also help negotiate a new contract between the city and the police union.

In his new position, Acevedo will be one of five assistant managers who oversee different departments in city government. He will report directly to Garza, who, the Statesman reported, hand-picked Acevedo with no input from City Council or the public. Council was informed of the hiring after the fact on Friday afternoon.

CM Vanessa Fuentes tweeted Friday, “I was surprised to learn, just a few hours ago, about Art Acevedo’s appointment as Interim Assistant City Manager. I hope Acevedo understands our community’s commitment to robust police oversight, accountability, and transparency.” CM Paige Ellis released a statement shortly after, saying, “I am shocked by this decision, as Acevedo oversaw a department that caused rape kits to go untested for years and entrapped protestors, among other issues. I told Jesus Garza this is a bad call, and I guarantee that if it had come before Council it would have a different outcome.” CM Natasha Harper-Madison responded to the news in a statement which simply said, “No.”

Many current criminal justice advocates are too young to remember Acevedo’s term as APD chief, which ran from 2007 to 2016. But he was a polarizing figure, a media darling admired by some for his willingness to engage with his critics and distrusted by others. During his tenure, there was a spate of police violence against people of color, leading to demands for reform which continue to resonate.

Acevedo also oversaw the complete unraveling of Austin’s crime lab, which ultimately was severed from the department in an effort to stop the politicization of forensic science. With the crime lab shut down, a backlog of untested sexual assault kits developed which eventually grew to more than 3,000. Only a third of the kits wound up producing DNA evidence once they were tested, meaning the investigations into many of these cases had to be reopened. He was also named in a class-action lawsuit brought by Austin women who alleged that APD “systematically refused to investigate sex crimes against women based on biased assumptions about their gender.”

Acevedo’s time as chief came to an end in 2016, after officer Geoffrey Freeman shot 17-year-old David Joseph to death and Acevedo told criminal justice advocates that he would try to finish an internal affairs investigation into the shooting within 30 days. This put him in a standoff with the Austin Police Association, which lingered for 10 months before Acevedo landed the position of chief of police in Houston. He subsequently worked as chief in Miami (where he was fired after six months on the job) and Aurora, Colorado, outside Denver.

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