After Rocky Two Years, Austin Police Chief Joseph Chacon Will Retire

Chacon joined APD in 1998

Austin Police Chief Joseph Chacon at his October 2021 swearing-in ceremony (photo by John Anderson)

Austin Police Chief Joseph Chacon announced today, Aug. 21, that he will resign his post early next month after just over two years leading the department he’s worked at for more than two decades.

Chacon succeeded Brian Manley, who led the Austin Police Department for three years, during which the political environment that has defined the relationship between APD, City Council, and the broader Austin community transformed (perhaps metastasized is a better word for it).

Still, “working at APD has been the privilege of my life,” Chacon said in a statement. “Being the Chief of Police is something that I never thought would have been possible, and it has been the pinnacle of my career.”

Both chiefs were appointed by former City Manager Spencer Cronk and confirmed by City Councils led by former Mayor Steve Adler. But new leaders occupy the city manager and mayor roles, new perspectives sit on the Council dais, and the APD-Council-community relationship remains tenuous. How much all of that factored into Chacon’s decision to step down is unclear.

When Chacon took over APD, the department faced three broad challenges: reforms to the Austin Police Academy intended to shift Austin cops away from a “warrior” mentality and toward that of “guardians,” broad culture change within the Sex Crimes Unit to improve the way APD responds to victims of sex crimes, and a solution to the department’s shortage of patrol officers, which began before Chacon and will continue after he’s gone.

It’s unlikely that stakeholders pushing for change – justice activists, sexual assault survivior-advocates, and the Austin Police Associatoin (the union representing APD’s rank-and-file workforce) – would argue that Chacon has made meaningful progress on any them. The Academy ecosystem is still resisting reform, a to-do list of consultant-recommended changes to the SCU (provided in November) drags on, and officers continue to flee the department – even after Council approved a hefty compensation package without extracting any concessions from the Austin Police Association.

Chacon’s chief of staff, Robin Henderson, will serve as interim chief until a permanent chief is vetted and selected. Henderson has worked her way up the chain of command at APD for 26 years; in 2020, Manley named her an assistant chief and one year later, Chacon promoted her to his CoS.

More on this story in Thursday’s print issue.

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