Austin Police Chief Chacon announces retirement

Austin Police Chief Joseph Chacon is saying goodbye to the department after two years in the top job.

He announced his retirement this morning and plans to leave the first week of September. Chacon has spent 25 years in total with APD.

Matt Mackowiak, co-founder of Save Austin Now, joins FOX 7 Austin's Rebecca Thomas to talk about how Chacon's retirement could affect the department.

REBECCA THOMAS: So, Matt, the department is already down, hundreds of officers. Will that make it harder to attract candidates from outside of Austin?

MATT MACKOWIAK: Yeah, I think it will. This is a tough job right now. In fact, it's never been tougher. And that's because of the actions of the previous mayor, the previous council, and even the current mayor and council who have not made the staffing crisis the urgent priority that it is. The simple facts are undeniable. We have 400 or so fewer police officers than we did when defend the police vote was taken in September of 2020. At a time when our city is growing faster than almost any major American city, at a time when crime is rising. So you add to that the fact that we're now out, out of contract. Our labor contract has expired as of March, and there really is no pathway to a collectively bargained contract at the moment. So we have a staffing crisis. We have a number one call center staffing crisis, and we have a new labor contract. So these are serious challenges in attracting first-rate candidates for police chief. And it's something the city is going to have to address.

REBECCA THOMAS: Chacon's chief of staff Robin Henderson will serve as the interim chief. What is Henderson's or whoever gets the job permanently? What is their biggest challenge as chief of police of this growing city? 

MATT MACKOWIAK: I mean, I'm tempted to say the biggest challenge is dealing with City hall. Right. City Hall continues to undermine APD. Time and time and time again, we've seen that now over three or four years. But look, if you zero in, it's retention. And recruitment are the biggest problems. We're losing on average 15 officers per month due to attrition. We're only attracting 50 or 60 who get through the cadet classes, and that's one class per year. So we're losing, you know, in three months what we gain over an entire year. And so we're you know, we're net we're losing a net of 50 or 75 officers per year at a time when we're already 400 officers down. So we've got to significantly increase our retention bonuses for officers. We have to have upfront recruitment bonuses. We need to run concurrent cadet classes. We need to do night classes and modified classes like other major cities like Houston do. We just have to add police officers at a faster rate than we're losing them. And that's how you turn the staffing crisis around.

REBECCA THOMAS: All right. Final question, Matt, In your opinion, what has Chief Chacon gotten right during his time holding the position and what could be improved upon by the next chief?

MATT MACKOWIAK: Yeah, he came in at a really difficult time. And what's what's tragic is that the Austin Police Association, the union for the city and the outgoing city manager did negotiate a four-year labor contract. The current mayor and council chose not to even allow that to come up for a vote in February. We appreciate Chief tycoon's decades, 25 years of service to our city, serving as police chief. Now for two plus years. He was in a tough spot at times. He dealt with a very difficult council, the previous council. But we need a visionary leader who can improve morale, who can attract significant improvements in recruiting and retention, who can get us over the finish line on another four year labor contract, and who can stand up to the mayor and the council when they do things that undermine our police department? We realize that's a tenuous balance. It's a tricky balance and we have a lot of confidence that interim Chief Henderson has the respect of the rank and file, the respect patrol officers, and that she'll do a great job and perhaps be a finalist for the permanent position as well.

REBECCA THOMAS: Okay, We are out of time. Matt Mackowiak with 'Save Austin Now.' Thank you for sharing your time and perspective with us tonight.