Austin interim Police Chief Brian Manley marks a year in that job Friday after replacing Art Acevedo, who departed to become Houston’s police chief in November 2016.
Manley, an Austin native who rose through the Police Department’s ranks after beginning as a patrol officer, could become the first person in decades to lead the department after spending his entire law enforcement career there. Several previous Austin chiefs were recruited to move to Austin.
City officials have said they are waiting until they name a new city manager, which is expected to happen in the next several weeks, before appointing a permanent chief.
Manley says he still wants the job. The American-Statesman sat down with him recently to discuss his thoughts about the past year.
What do you see as your biggest accomplishments?
“I really want to focus on what we’ve done as a department really to redefine ourselves in terms of community policing —maintaining and building trust that is so essential to policing. We’ve taken steps such as reorganizing the department, moving commanders around to allow for more involvement of the commanders within their patrol commands, with the goal of being more transparent, more engaging, giving our commanders more time to work with the community.
“We are working with many community groups in the area of building trust, in the area of making sure we really are focused on the issues that are important to the community. We know the important things about reducing violent crime and property crime and response time, but there are so many quality of life issues that impact the community in different ways, in different parts of the city, so we really do want to understand those.
“We’ve hosted events, we’ve been co-hosting events, to bring in community leaders, to talk about data-driven policing, intelligence based policing and trying to be as progressive as possible.”
What about challenges?
“I think the challenges we face here are pretty noted in the community. When I took over, within my first week, I closed the DNA lab because of challenges that had been building up in that lab. We had concerns, the community had concerns, and I took a step I felt was necessary, controversial to some, but I felt it was necessary. It has been a challenge this year to build back the credibility and the trust.
“There are the challenges we face here in Austin, but also other major police departments face, and that’s our backlog of sexual assault kits. We are on track now to have the backlog cleared by the summer of 2018.
“A challenge that you don’t expect to take on as police chief is having to ground your entire fleet of police vehicles and somehow find a way to still provide service to a community of a million-plus. As we always do, we take on the challenge and work through it. I have to say how proud I am of the men and women of the Austin Police Department because we’ve had to dramatically change how we patrol. We’ve had to take resources from some of the units in the department to give them to front-line patrol. They have continued to find a way to do their jobs, and the men and women on the front lines on patrol day and night have adjusted their operations.”
You followed Art Acevedo, who in addition to being the police chief, was what many people would call a larger-than-life figure. Let’s talk about your leadership style.
“I have taken a lot of those great qualities I learned from Chief Acevedo and I have implemented them in my own way. I absolutely share his values and his commitment to the community, the importance of engagement. I may not be the one riding on the float singing into the microphone, but I’m walking next to the float shaking hands and making connections and I’m talking to the community.
“I have found that the community is very accepting of the style that I have. They recognize that it is very different than what we had with Chief Acevedo, but I think it is all about your heart, what you want to do, your desire to serve, your willingness to hold your organization accountable, your willingness to improve when you’ve made mistakes.”
One of the things you’ve had to confront is that violent crime last year was up more than 10 percent from the previous year. How is crime overall looking this year?
“We have taken the steps necessary to do what we can in the area of violent crime. I did state last year that was one of my priorities. And then of course, as we tried to do that we had the situation with the vehicles, where we had half the number of vehicles on the street. The greatest deterrent to a criminal act is a visible police presence.
“We are currently sitting on a slight increase this year. It varies month to month, and it has fluctuated between a 1 percent to 4 percent increase each month, but we also had a month where it was down 1½ percent. Our latest report in October shows a 2.2 percent increase for the year overall. We are focused on using the resources that we have in the areas where they are going to have the greatest effect. We have taken a very measured and a direct approach to violent crime.”
Given your year as interim, do you still want the job, and will you go through any kind of search process the city may decide to have?
“I said when I took over that I would be honored and I would love to serve as the chief of the department, and that has not changed. If asked to do so, then I absolutely would stay on. This is a calling. It has been a calling for me my entire life. I sit here today more resolute that this is what I want to do.”