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Experts discuss City of Austin's search for new police chief

It's a search that will also involve an independent firm, Ralph Andersen & Associates, to help lead the recruiting process.

AUSTIN, Texas — Austin City Manager Spencer Cronk announced Monday morning that Assistant Austin Police Chief Joe Chacon will serve as the City's interim Austin Police Department chief during a national search for a permanent replacement for Chief Brian Manley

It's a search that will also involve an independent firm, Ralph Andersen & Associates, to help lead the recruiting process.

Overall, the City laid out the timeline for selecting a chief like this: 

  1. Project Management & Candidate Profile Development (March/April)  
  2. Outreach and Recruiting (April/May/June)   
  3. Selection (July/August)  

Some experts say it may prove to be a tight turnaround for the City, but are optimistic that the selection will be made. 

"That is fast. But there may be, in other words, there may be such focused attention on this," said Jesús Garza, a former Austin City Manager to KVUE on Monday. "There's so much interest on this position that they'll be able to pull that timeline off, and I would only say that that we ought to look at that as a guidepost, that's a goal. But I think what we really want and I know what the manager wants and what the mayor and council want is they want the very best possible person to be selected to be the chief of police."

RELATED: Assistant Austin police chief named as interim chief amid national search to replace Brian Manley

One main topic, some experts say, which may impact how the city manager makes the selection is taking into account the protests over racial injustice and controversial shootings by police last summer.  

Coinciding with those topics includes fixing up ties with some communities who may have lost a sense of trust with the current police department. 

"The APD has struggled in recent months with bringing back former partners to the table, particularly within minority communities in Austin who have felt that they have not been heard," said Michael Sierra-Arévalo, a professor with the University of Texas at Austin's Sociology Department. "So the city manager is likely going to be looking for somebody that can rebuild those bridges between people that have felt unheard by the APD."

Sierra-Arévalo is also a commissioner on the City of Austin's Public Safety Commission

Credit: FILE

Another issue Sierra-Arévalo said that a new chief would have to tackle is what he describes as a restricted APD budget, referring to the Austin City Council's desicion to re-allocate up to $150 million away from the APD budget last year. 

RELATED: VERIFY: Has the reduced Austin police budget affected the city's homicide rate?

"That's a very unique problem that Austin is dealing with. While other cities have decided to increase their police budgets, even though there's been a great deal of public outcry for a reduction in police budgets, that's a problem that's happening here in Austin right now. It's happening. So a chief needs to be able to address that," Sierra-Arévalo said. 

Overall, Sierra-Arévalo said he hopes to see change come from a new chief, but Austinites shouldn't expect immediate change to happen overnight. 

"I hope, as somebody that cares about issues like that, there will be positive change in terms of the culture of the department, in terms of racial disparities in policing. But it would be, frankly, unfair to pin our hopes and dreams of this change happening on a single police chief," Sierra-Arévalo said. 

But another big question mark is where the new chief could be selected from.

While Brian Manley came from within APD, the person before him, Art Acevedo, came from out of state. 

"Police departments in the United States are very similar. They have similar procedures, yes, similar selection, training procedures, the things the police officers do out on the street are very similar," said Bill Spellman, a professor with the University of Texas at Austin's LBJ School of Public Affairs. "So if we got a police officer from a police chief candidate from Seattle, Washington, or Gainesville, Florida, they're going to know enough about what it is the cops do in Austin, Texas."

Spellman added that he wouldn't be surprised if there would be a few candidates from outside of the country. 

"So it's a fairly portable job. It also turns out to be fairly portable outside the country. Canadian police officers, British police officers, Australian and New Zealand police officers have very similar things that they know how to do, and they behave in very similar sorts of ways. So I wouldn't be too surprised to find a good candidate from out of the country," Spellman said.

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