Editors Note: This article has been updated to reflect Austin’s ranking as 15th on the “Homicide Rate Problem” index came from WalletHub’s April 2023 study.
AUSTIN––The City of Austin announced the retirement of Austin Police Chief Joseph Chacon. This comes amid staffing shortages, rising crime, and what public safety advocates have deemed a “totally dysfunctional city government.”
“Chief Chacon has certainly made an impressive mark on the City with his effort to move the police department in new directions,” said Interim City Manager Jesús Garza in the city’s announcement. “We will miss his leadership and dedication but are confident that the team he leaves behind will be able to further the great efforts he started.”
The nonpartisan Save Austin Now PAC released a statement thanking Chacon for his service and emphasizing the need for improved public safety in the city:
The city now embarks on a national search for a new police chief and residents cannot afford for this effort to fail. This search will occur at a low point for public safety in our city. Amid rising crime, inadequate 911 response times and the most profound police staffing crisis in our city’s history, we must select a new police chief that can dramatically improve recruiting and retention and secure a new labor contract with the city.
Until a search for a permanent chief is completed, Garza has selected current Austin Police Department Chief of Staff Robin Henderson as Interim Police Chief.
Public safety advocates have praised Henderson. However, they have also epressed low expectations for any improvement in the Austin policing crisis with the current city government in charge.
“Austin will never be able to retain an experienced, well-rounded Chief for any amount of time with a Council who refuses to ratify a contract and a DA who removes less lethal options and continues to harass LEOs [Law Enforcement Officers],” said Jennifer Hackney-Szimanski, Public Affairs Director for the Combined Law Enforcement Associations of Texas (CLEAT).
CLEAT released a statement promising to continue advocating for Austin police in the Texas Capitol, “as it is the only remaining venue for the future of public safety in Austin.”
After the 2020 riots, the APD budget was defunded by $150 million––roughly a third of its total budget––under the Democrat-run City Council. Since then, lawlessness has skyrocketed. The city’s murder rate has spiked, and in April Austin was deemed as having the 15th biggest “Homicide Rate Problem” according to a WalletHub study.
More than 800 officers have left the APD in the last six years.
“Austin has 400 fewer police officers today than we did three years ago and hardly a day goes by when there isn’t a critical incident in our city,” said Save Austin Now co-founders Matt Mackowiak and Cleo Petricek. “Until City Hall rejects the poison of police abolitionists and their allied activists and ensures we have a strong, adequately staffed police department, public safety will continue to deteriorate.”
Meanwhile, questions are starting to be raised about Chacon’s retirement. Local attorney Adam Loewy went on Austin talk radio’s Cardle & Woolley show Tuesday morning and said he believes there is “more to the story” than has been stated in official releases. According to Loewy, the Chacon retirement was a “bombshell” as it remains “unclear as to why he actually wanted to retire.”
Chacon had been with APD for 25 years and knew what the job would entail following the 2020 riots.
“This is connected to the IH-35 bridge 3 years ago during the George Floyd protests and riots,” alleged Loewy. He said that Chacon was a senior officer present on the bridge as APD used smoke canisters and bean bags (which caused injuries due to being past their expiration date) to curtail the protestors.
Chacon was never indicted by Travis County District Attorney José Garza, unlike more than a dozen APD officers involved in the protests. DA Garza, who campaigned on holding police officers accountable for misconduct, was elected in 2020. He was backed by more than $400,000 in political ads paid for by the George Soros-funded Texas Justice and Public Safety PAC.
Loewy says rumors were emerging about whether DA Garza would indict Chacon before the statute of limitations expires. He said it was possible an agreement between Chacon and DA Garza was reached that allowed Chacon to avoid indictment.
He has also theorized that due to the “totally dysfunctional city government,” a new police chief is unlikely to be confirmed for up to two years.
Loewy says there is “zero chance” of fixing the current staffing crisis with the uncertainty in both APD leadership and future contracts with the city.
“This city council has to get its act together and get a contract done,” said Loewy.