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On his last day, Austin Police Chief Art Acevedo gives ‘exit interview’

Austin Police Chief Art Acevedo finished reading thank-you notes and well-wishes from the public and packing his office before he turned in his uniforms Tuesday — his last day after a more than nine-year tenure as the city’s top law enforcement officer. On Wednesday, Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner will officially swear Acevedo in as that city’s next police chief.

Acevedo’s administration in Austin was marked with challenges, but he’s also been credited with bringing reforms to the department and praised for bridging relations between police and the city’s black and Hispanic communities.

Acevedo said he plans to return to Austin frequently. He’ll be back Friday for several hours to hand out gifts for Operation Blue Santa and to attend a badge-pinning ceremony for Interim Chief Brian Manley.

The American-Statesman sat down with Acevedo for an “exit interview”:

What do you see as your biggest accomplishment during your tenure? What are some goals you had that you leave unmet?

Acevedo: I’m proud of a lot of things. I think the collective mindset of the department, the attitude, the personality has changed from one that was kind of an “us-versus-them” mentality to one where we are a part of the community, the community matters to us. Folks smile a lot more. I think I have brought the community closer to the department, and I think I’ve brought different segments of the community closer together. I’m more of a unifier than a divider, and I’m proud of that.

The (closure of the police) DNA lab really bothers me. I wish that we wouldn’t be here today where we’ve had to shut it down for so many months because our scientists decided to go onto an island to themselves. The lab is not reopened, and it probably won’t be open until early next year, so that’s the one thing I kind of leave undone, understanding that the work never ends.”

What is your biggest hope for Austin, going forward, as a city?

My love of this city isn’t going to end just because my new beat is a couple of hours away. From 2007 to 2015, according to media reports, the city grew by over 200,000 residents — not to mention more hotels, more conventions, and despite that phenomenal growth, the department now has multiple studies that show we are significantly short on staffing. I hope this city understands … for the first time this year we are seeing a 10 percent increase in violent crime, and that is cause for concern. The question we have to ask ourselves is what kind of city do we want to be 10 years from now? And if we allow what we allowed to happen with transportation, where we ignore the growth, I think it is going to impact lives. So that is my hope — that people wake up and realize our department needs to have some attention placed on it.

What is your hope for the department?

They know that we’ll never achieve perfection. But they know that we’ve left this place here closing out 2016 in a much better place than it was in 2007. They know the recipe for success — to build the emotional capital we need when we have a use of force, or an ugly use of force or an inappropriate use of force. They know that our journey has been about people, and I think we have created the deep-seat held belief that people matter. So I hope that they will continue that.

What advice to you have for your successor?

My successor is Brian Manley, let’s just make that real clear. It is Brian Manley. Thursday, he is going to be the police chief. My advice to him is, it is your job. There’s no hyphen. There’s no asterisk. You are the chief of police. You go out and do your job like it is yours to keep. Do you what you know is the right thing to do. And do it to the best of your ability until the day they tell you it’s not yours anymore. That’s what I tried to do for 9½ years, and that’s what I hope he’ll do for the next months and years to come.

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