Austin police chief abruptly retires amid staffing shortages due partly to defunding

 The chief of the Austin Police Department in Texas abruptly announced that he will soon retire after serving two years in the role.

On Monday, Chief Joseph Chacon, 55, announced that he is retiring, effective the first week of September. The announcement was so unexpected that even Chacon seemed surprised by it, claiming that thoughts about retirement recently hit him "out of the blue," but after careful consideration, he decided that retiring now would be the right decision. "Because when you know, you just know," he said

Full Press Conference | Austin Police Chief Joseph Chacon stepping down after 25 years with

Chacon has spent 31 years in law enforcement, six with El Paso police and 25 with the APD. He served "at every rank," he stated, including assistant chief, a post he held for five years before becoming police chief in 2021.

The year 2021 was tumultuous for police departments throughout the country, and the Austin PD was no different. In 2020, just weeks before George Floyd died during a highly controversial encounter with Minneapolis police, Austin police officer Christopher Taylor reportedly shot and killed Michael Ramos, a 31-year-old unarmed black man. Between the deaths of Ramos and Floyd and calls from Democrat politicians to defund the police, the Austin City Council voted to cut the APD's budget by a third, which translates to a whopping $150 million. 

The council has since restored much of the department's budget, approving more than $476 million for the APD for fiscal year 2022-23. Despite the added money though, the APD continued to suffer staffing shortages, especially among patrol officers. More than 800 officers have left the APD since 2017, according to Austin Police Association President Thomas Villareal, and at least 330 officer vacancies still remain.

For these and other reasons, some have characterized the last two years with Chacon at the helm as "turbulent" for the APD. But in his retirement announcement, Chacon stood by his record, noting that new resources had been dedicated for sexual assault investigations, new crowd control protocols had been implemented, and officers had been given ongoing training "regarding awareness and ultimate elimination of Institutional and Structural Racism."

During a press conference on Monday, Chacon thanked a number of people, including his wife. He then became emotional as he expressed gratitude to the men and women in blue who have served alongside him. He called for residents and leaders of Austin to "support these amazing individuals" who often place themselves in harm's way to protect others. He also defended them, claiming that proper policing sometimes forces officers to make "split-second decisions, some of those being life-and-death decisions" that can seem controversial in hindsight.

"They deserve, they deserve," he repeated for emphasis, "our love, our admiration, our grace, and our respect."

Chacon also insisted that his abrupt departure is not a "sign of instability," and perhaps to assuage any concerns about department continuity, Austin Police Department Chief of Staff Robin Henderson has already been announced as interim police chief. A permanent replacement will be named after an extensive search, officials said.

Following his retirement announcement, many public leaders expressed admiration for Chacon and his decades of public service. "Chief Chacon led the Austin Police Department with integrity and a deep commitment to the people of the department as well as our community," said Austin Mayor Kirk Watson. "I appreciate his work to cultivate mutual respect and trust during a challenging time in which we're all trying to find the right balance in policing. We wish him a well-deserved and fulfilling retirement, and we are immensely grateful for his years of service."

The Austin Police Association also released a statement: "The Austin Police Association would like to take a moment to thank Chief Joe Chacon for his years of service to the citizens of Austin and El Paso, as well as for the time he spent on the Board of Directors for the APA."

Though most offered best wishes for Chacon's retirement, others in the community remain staunchly distrustful of the APD and criticized Chacon's leadership. "Chacon rarely held officers accountable for wrongdoing, resisted important reforms from the district attorney and at the police academy, and welcomed and directed the disastrous first months of DPS patrols that saw extreme racial disparities in all their activities," said Chris Harris, director of policy at the Austin Justice Coalition.

In May, Austin residents voted overwhelmingly to approve a proposal that would require more public oversight of the APD. Proposal A — which, according to KUT, was authored by Equity Action, a progressive-leaning criminal justice nonprofit — gave the citizen-led Office of Police Oversight more authority to monitor police investigation work and to review complaints made against APD personnel.

Proposal A passed with almost 80% of the vote. However, just 10% of registered voters in Austin participated in that election. "This deeply felt conversation about public safety and policing in our community has raised a lot of challenging questions and absolutely no easy answers," Mayor Watson said after the results of the vote had been posted. "But we'll keep talking in the hope of finding some common-sense solutions that serve all our community."

Austin police chief abruptly retires amid staffing shortages due partly to defunding Austin police chief abruptly retires amid staffing shortages due partly to defunding Reviewed by Your Destination on August 23, 2023 Rating: 5

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