Putting Brian Manley to the Test

Interim chief lone finalist to run Austin Police

Brian Manley at a press conference in Montopolis after a package bomb injured Esperanza Herrera (Photo by Jana Birchum)

"Let's vet who we have now. And if we need to go to a national search, let's do it then."

That's how City Manager Spencer Cronk declared his intent to name interim Austin Police Chief Brian Manley as the lone finalist to succeed departed Chief Art Acevedo on a permanent basis. Speaking Monday at a press conference to announce the decision, Cronk outlined what he intends to be a monthlong vetting process, with various stakeholder meetings and community forums (see this story's tagline) designed to "give Manley an opportunity" to make clear his vision for the community and police department. Cronk hopes that process can produce a consensus on what sort of characteristics Austinites want in a chief, what they consider APD's biggest challenges, and what sort of issues they'd like to see the chief prioritize over the next five years. "I'm new to this job," said Cronk. "I've been here about nine weeks. ... Brian Manley is the lead candidate for the job. What are your expectations?"

Manley, an Austin native who's been with APD since 1990, was chief of staff prior to Acevedo's departure, and has served in an interim capacity for the past 17 months. Cronk pointed to his community ties and "focus on partnerships, commitment to community involvement, and positive view toward the future," but also said he felt comfortable identifying Manley as a lone finalist after consulting with fellow city managers in comparable cities that have recently hired new chiefs about the candidate pools for those positions; he mentioned conversations with counterparts in Dallas and Fort Worth. Cronk also spoke of Manley's handling of the bomber saga that terrorized the city through much of March, and referenced both his "steady and calming presence," and also his ability to acknowledge mistakes made during the investigation and its aftermath.

"These are tough jobs," said Cronk, "and there is going to be criticism in many of the decisions that are made. But how Manley was able to learn from them" and admit to mistakes helped influence Cronk's thinking.

Manley addressed his current status at a press conference at APD headquarters one hour after Cronk's concluded; he's both honored and humbled. The interim chief referenced his history with the city and department, but spent much of the 10-minute presser essentially responding to Cronk's talking points. He noted how APD is not a "perfect department" but stressed he believes "we learn any time we come up short, and we do better the next time."

"We're the 11th largest city in the country," he said. "We're a police department with 1,900 officers and 700 civilians. Instead of focusing on a specific misstep or the like, what I would say is ... as we move forward, learning from the community on what is important to them."

Manley also touted his recent command restructure, which has allowed commanders to oversee smaller territories, giving them a chance to get to know that area better, and pointed to an eventual labor agreement and the department's handling of violent crime (it's on the rise locally, and he's designing a task force to handle it) as two other priorities moving forward – as permanent chief or not.

Community forums are planned for Monday, May 7, 6pm, at the Turner-Roberts Recreation Center, 7201 Colony Loop, and Thursday, May 17, 7pm, at the KLRU Studio, 2504 Whitis.

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Brian Manley, Spencer Cronk, Art Acevedo, Austin Police Department

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