Sep 30, 2021 - Politics

Ahead of big vote, Austin police chief appears vulnerable

A job seeker speaks to the Austin Police Department at a job fair

Photo: Ben Torres/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Austin city council members stayed silent ahead of their vote on whether to give interim Austin police chief Joseph Chacon the permanent title.

Driving the news: The cracks in his approval come one day after Axios reported plans by groups like the NAACP to challenge the permanent promotion of someone inside the system.

Why it matters: The filling of the city's top law enforcement job gets at raw, profound questions about racial justice and the relationship between the police and the people they're meant to serve.

Flashback: Chacon won the interim slot after the former chief retired this March in the wake of anti-racism protests and the police killing of a Black and Hispanic man last year.

But it's unclear whether Chacon has the votes to keep the role as local groups like the Austin Justice Coalition, a police and rights watchdog group, and Save Austin Now, which is pushing for the hiring of more officers, have come out in opposition to his promotion.

What they're saying: Mackenzie Kelly, perhaps the most conservative member of the city council, said she would vote against Chacon's move to chief.

  • "We had a unique opportunity to bring in a fresh perspective to help address critical issues related to departmental morale, staffing and community engagement," Kelly said. "This, in addition to the ongoing barrage of criticism from select community activists … make it impossible for me to cast my vote in support of an internal candidate."
  • Council Member Greg Casar said he plans to pose questions to Chacon about improvements to police oversight and victim services — but stopped short of specifying how he would vote.
  • Council Member Kathie Tovo told Axios she plans to support Chacon and "has a lot of confidence" in his ability to lead. She added that "it's important that [council members] have a full conversation."
  • A spokesperson for Mayor Steve Adler declined to comment ahead of Thursday's meeting.

Axios left messages for the seven other council members; none responded.

  • NAACP chief Nelson Linder told Axios he will challenge the selection, and Chris Harris, policy director for the Austin Justice Coalition, said that Chacon has "long been in leadership on the Fifth Floor where the culture of racism in APD's brass has been widely reported."

💭Asher's thought bubble: If Chacon doesn't win council approval, Austin city manager Spencer Cronk — who oversaw the police chief selection process and recommended Chacon — suddenly appears weak.

  • Chacon "is the right person to lead our city’s police department to achieve results, build trust and transparency, and accomplish equitable public safety outcomes for all Austin residents and visitors,” Cronk tells Axios.

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