Austin Police Chief Joseph Chacon has officially announced his retirement, marking the end of his two-year tenure as the head of the department. Chacon, who has dedicated a total of 25 years to the Austin Police Department (APD), will be leaving his post in the first week of September. The announcement of his retirement has stirred discussions about the potential impact on the department’s future.
In a recent interview with FOX 7 Austin’s Rebecca Thomas, Matt Mackowiak, co-founder of Save Austin Now, weighed in on how Chacon’s retirement could affect the department. The conversation began by addressing the current shortage of officers in the department and whether attracting candidates from outside Austin would become more challenging.
Mackowiak expressed his belief that attracting new candidates would indeed become more difficult due to the staffing crisis that has plagued the department. He attributed this crisis to the actions of past and present city officials who have not prioritized the issue. Mackowiak emphasized the undeniable facts that the city now has approximately 400 fewer police officers compared to the time when the vote to reallocate police funds was taken in September 2020. He further highlighted the challenges posed by the expiration of the labor contract in March, with no clear path to a new agreement in sight. These circumstances make it imperative for the city to address the staffing crisis and find qualified candidates to fill the position of police chief.
When discussing Chacon’s departure, Thomas brought up the topic of his chief of staff, Robin Henderson, who will serve as interim chief. Mackowiak was asked about the biggest challenges that Henderson, or any permanent chief of police, would face in managing a growing city like Austin.
Mackowiak contended that one of the major challenges is dealing with City Hall, which he described as consistently undermining the efforts of the APD. However, he emphasized that retention and recruitment are the key issues that need to be addressed. He revealed that the department is currently losing an average of 15 officers per month due to attrition, while only attracting 50 to 60 cadets from a single class each year. To counteract this loss, Mackowiak proposed increasing retention and recruitment bonuses, running multiple cadet classes concurrently, and implementing night and modified classes. By addressing these challenges and increasing the rate of officer recruitment, the staffing crisis can be reversed.
As the interview concluded, Thomas sought Mackowiak’s opinion on Chief Chacon’s performance and what improvements the next chief could bring to the table.
Mackowiak acknowledged that Chacon took on the role during a challenging period. He highlighted the fact that a four-year labor contract had been negotiated between the Austin Police Association, the outgoing city manager, and the union for the city. However, the current mayor and council decided not to bring it up for a vote in February, thus preventing its implementation. Mackowiak commended Chacon for his decades of service and stated that the next chief should be a visionary leader who can boost morale, improve recruitment and retention, negotiate a new labor contract, and stand up to city officials when necessary. Interim Chief Henderson was also praised for her experience and potential as a finalist for the permanent position.
Chief Joseph Chacon’s retirement marks a significant change for the Austin Police Department. The challenges raised in the interview underscore the importance of addressing the staffing crisis and finding a competent and capable leader to guide the department through these turbulent times.