Final forum set for vetting of Manley as permanent Austin police chief


Brian Manley was named the lone finalist for permanent Austin police chief in April.

City Manager Spencer Cronk said he could still open a nationwide search.

Thursday’s forum is a chance for the public to hear from Manley.

If interim Police Chief Brian Manley gets the job permanently, those within the Austin Police Department say that his focus should be on repairing relationships among department leadership, smoothing the way for a new police contract and being more responsive to trouble within the rank and file.

But Thursday, in the last of two forums, members of the public will get a chance to offer their priorities and to hear Manley outline his vision for the department if he is made the city’s permanent police chief.

City Manager Spencer Cronk named Manley the sole finalist for the position on April 30 and launched a community input process to either move Manley into the role permanently or result in a national search.

Cronk said he needed to hear from as wide a pool of voices in the community as possible before making his final decision. He also has researched recent police chief recruitment processes in other cities, including Dallas, Fort Worth and other jurisdictions.

“By all accounts, Manley has performed admirably over the last 18 months, and he embodies some of the key characteristics that I’m looking for in my executive appointments: a focus on partnerships, a commitment to community involvement and a positive view towards the future,” Cronk said in April.

Manley has received praise and community support in the aftermath of the Austin bombings, but others insist that city leaders broaden the search to ensure the city gets the best possible candidates for the job.

Thursday’s forum is 7 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. in the KLRU-TV studio on the University of Texas campus.

At the first forum in East Austin, most of the more than 100 people in attendance gave Manley a standing ovation when he took the stage.

Manley touted some of the changes he’s made as interim chief, such as requiring more commanders to oversee patrols, placing a lieutenant in charge of community engagement, and evaluating and rewarding officers for community policing efforts.

READ MORE: Interim Austin Police Chief Manley stands by his record in first forum

Manley also faced a number of challenges, such as deciding to shutter the police DNA lab and hand over operations to the Texas Department of Public Safety, and to pull the department’s fleet of Ford Explorers off the streets after reports of carbon monoxide poisoning among officers surfaced.

He told the audience that he let Austin’s former acting City Manager Elaine Hart know that he could not be a placeholder in his interim capacity.

“Policing cannot stand still. It’s too dynamic,” Manley said. “Thankfully, she was looking for someone to take control of the department and to make changes where change was necessary, and we’ve done that over the past 18 months.”

Police union President Ken Casaday told the American-Statesman that department morale is low, but that is more of a function of the failure of the union’s meet-and-confer agreement leaving officers without a contract, and not necessarily a reflection of Manley’s leadership.

At the first forum, residents echoed those concerns, asking whether Manley could be a successful chief without a police union contract with the city, the last of which expired at the end of 2017.

Community members also asked Manley how he could ensure Austin’s officers are trained more as guardians than warriors in response to an American-Statesman and KVUE-TV investigation in which several former Austin police recruits said the training they received at the academy was too aggressive.

READ MORE: Is Austin training police to be too aggressive? 10 ex-cadets say yes.

“I do not believe sitting here today that there is a culture at the academy that is not in line with best practices with policing, with my expectations in this community,” he said.

Attendees at the previous forum also asked how Manley could ensure that the type of violent arrest experienced by teacher Breaion King doesn’t happen to people of color in Austin again; how to make sure all people, including immigrants, are fairly represented and communicated with; and what Manley’s vision is for the department’s DNA lab.

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