AUSTIN - Austin Police Department Chief Art Acevedo has been named Houston's police chief.
KVUE's and the Austin American-Statesman's Tony Plohetski confirmed the information before a formal announcement which came later in the day Thursday. Before the formal announcement, Acevedo arrived in Houston to formally accept the position at the fifth largest police department in the United States with a force of more than 5,000 officers.
Acevedo released the following statement on Thursday:
"I accepted an offer today from Mayor Sylvester Turner to be the next chief of police for the City of Houston. Serving this great city has been the honor of a lifetime. During my nearly ten-year journey with the city, many improvements have been made both within the police department and to our relationship with the community. Together we have addressed many challenges and truly made Austin a safer community. Collectively we have pursued excellence for the Austin Police Department. I believe the timing is right for me to take on the opportunity to work for Mayor Turner and lead the men and women of the Houston Police Department and serve the people of Houston.
Thank you for the tremendous honor of being your chief. I urge you to remember where we were as an organization in July 2007 and what we've accomplished since as a community. We've made great strides and I look forward to the Austin Police Department's continued success."
Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner announced Acevedo's hiring in Houston Thursday afternoon.
"This is a very special moment for the city of Houston, for where we are and where we are going. Today is a big day for this city," Turner said. "We are ready to move forward with the leadership team that will carry us into 2017 and beyond."
Turner praised Acevedo's accomplishments in Houston and said, "He doesn't mind being out there on the front lines himself. He is a cop's cop. He values rank-and-file police officers that are out there on the street. He recognizes the need for diversity. He is eager to serve the city of Houston."
When asked about the Houston position previously, Acevedo publicly said that he had not applied for the position. Plohteski said Houston officials have kept the facts of the negotiation tightly held.
As for Austin, an interim police chief will take Acevedo's place until the position is filled permanently. Austin Police Association President Ken Casaday said the department will likely have an interim chief for the next 12 to 15 months since the city is in the process of hiring a city manager. He named APD Chief of Staff Brian Manley when asked about potential candidates to replace Acevedo.
Who is Acevedo?
Austin’s eighth chief of police, Acevedo took the reins of the Austin Police Department in July of 2007. Since then, Acevedo has been no stranger to headlines and has become the face of APD and a prominent figure in the community.
Acevedo, Austin’s first Hispanic police chief, came to the Capital City from California, where he was a division chief with the California Highway Patrol.
When Acevedo came to Austin, APD was under a Justice Department review for allegations of excessive force. Acevedo responded with changes in department policy and a leadership academy for the department’s supervisors. City officials, police officers and community officials credited Acevedo with improvements to APD after his arrival.
According to the Austin-American Statesman, Acevedo was one of six finalists to lead the Dallas Police Department in 2010. Former Austin City Manager Marc Ott tried to persuade Acevedo to stay in Austin by offering him a salary increase, which would have made him the second-highest-paid police chief in Texas, but Acevedo turned it down. Acevedo withdrew his application from Dallas, saying, "I haven't had a perfect three years, but I think people know my heart is in the right place."
In of 2015, Acevedo announced that he was one of five finalists for the San Antonio Police Department’s new police chief. Acevedo and Ott announced that Acevedo accepted a 5 percent pay raise to stay with APD, according to the Statesman.
Acevedo has been outspoken against police brutality in the department.
In April of 2016, Acevedo was reprimanded and docked five day’s pay after he violated a direct order from Ott to stop publicly discussing the February shooting of David Joseph, the naked unarmed teen who was shot after he charged at the officer in North Austin. In a memo obtained by KVUE’s Tony Plohetski, Ott told the chief he was concerned about his performance and judgment unrelated to the shooting and warned him he could be fired if another incident took place. Ott said he counseled the chief on his performance in the past, including once in 2011.
The Combined Law Enforcement Associations of Texas Executive Director Charley Wilkison issued a statement in response to the incident saying, in part, “Rank-and-file police officers in Austin have been sounding the alarm for months about Chief Acevedo's habit of bad-mouthing the cops he's supposed to be leading. Finally, his supervisor stepped in with decisive action to bring the chief back into line. Surely, the city manager realizes the harm the chief's comments do when an on-duty officer involved in controversy is hung out to dry by the chief of police.”
Shortly after the reprimand, rumors Began to circulate that Acevedo was a candidate for the open position of chief of the Houston Police Department. He denied the rumors and told KVUE, "I'm not searching for a job, I'm right here. I love the city of Austin."
Chief Acevedo also received an endorsement from Austin Mayor Steve Adler in April. “I'm a strong supporter of the Chief, always has been. We probably live in the safest city in the entire country and actually the chief and city manager deserve credit for that. We have a chain of command in the City and that has to be followed.”
In October, KVUE released secretly recorded audio of Acevedo admonishing 18 of his commanders following two high-profile use of force cases, including the David Joseph shooting. In the recording, Acevedo described a lack of leadership among the department.
“I have given nine years of my life to the Austin Police Department,” Acevedo told his commanders. “Nine years aren’t going to go down the drain because we have people in this room that don’t want to do the hard lifting, that don’t want to be the bad guys. Sorry, we have to be the bad guys sometimes.”
“I don’t care about commander morale,” he said. “Some people in this room have my attention, and you’ll soon find out who you are.”
Earlier this year, the Austin Police Association released a survey showing that 52 percent of officers thought morale within the department was poor. 42 percent of officers said they did not think Acevedo could effectively lead the department in the future, 22 percent said that he could and 35 percent said they were uncertain.
The survey asked specially about the firing of Officer Geoffrey Freeman in the shooting of David Joseph.
"The chief made his decision to go against his training academy, and his training staff," APA President Ken Casaday said. "They were very loud and clear through their testimony that they trained Officer Freeman to do what he did that day."
The study found that 54 percent of officers strongly agreed that the firing was due to political pressure.
Acevedo released the following statement in response to the survey results:
As the Chief and a member of what is arguably one of the finest police agencies in the nation, and as a leader who has great respect and admiration for the women and men I serve, I am excited at the opportunity this survey provides to address the concerns raised.
I look forward to working with our leadership cadre to ensure we are doing everything we can to continue moving our organization forward. Our work is especially critical in light of the current negative climate nationally as it relates to policing. I am proud of the fact that the men and women of the Austin Police Department continue to work diligently to keep the City of Austin one of the safest cities in the United States, despite the long standing and well documented challenges we face as a profession. I am confident the best days of the APD are yet to come.
During his time in Austin, Acevedo has been an active participant in the community. He was seen walking with parades, including the Austin Pride Parade and attending festivals and charity events. He attended University of Texas football games and spoke at Austin ISD schools.
Local leaders react to Acevedo's new job
Austin Mayor Steve Adler said the following in a text message to Plohetski:
"Houston is getting a world-class police chief. Chief Acevedo has made our community safer and closer and he is trusted and much loved by so many. Austin is losing a moral and joyous leader and I’m losing a friend.
Losing Art Acevedo is a huge deal and replacing him will be a daunting task in part because he gave so much of himself to his job and his community. But, Austin is a safe city with a strong police force and we’ll have talented applicants to take his place. We’ll shortly have a new city manager and a new police chief, and this gives Austin a unique opportunity to enter a new era in our history."
Austin's NAACP President Nelson told KVUE what he wants to see in the next police chief.
"A straight shooter. Work on the department, less PR. Hold people accountable,' Nelson said. "Talk to everybody, but at the same time, the work is more important than the conversation. If the work is good, it speaks for itself."
Ken Casaday, the president of the Austin Police Association, held a press conference following the breaking news.
"There are so many great things that Chief Acevedo's done for our department," Casaday said. "He brought a lot of pride to our department. He sat down and worked with us on creating a new discipline system for minor offenses that has been very successful. So there's a lot of great things that Chief Acevedo's done that we appreciate him for."
Watch part of the press conference here:
Austin City Council member Ora Houston released the following statement:
"Chief Art Acevedo has had a positive impact in community policing during his time in Austin. I appreciate the efforts he made to build bridges and establish relationships with individuals, particularly in those communities who have long experienced distrust and lack of respect from law enforcement. He has shown courage by having conversations about bias and racism that most are not willing to acknowledge or have. It is with sincere appreciation for all that he has done for policing in the city of Austin, that I say congratulations and wish him the best as Chief of the Houston Police Department."
(© 2016 KVUE)