HOUSTON - After nearly two decades with California Highway Patrol and, most recently, nearly a decade over Austin’s police force, Art Acevedo will now be Chief of the country’s fifth-largest police force.
Turner also confirmed Thursday the hiring of Samuel Peña from El Paso as the Houston Fire Department's new chief.
Acevedo will be in charge of just more than double the amount of officers and support staff -- and plenty of big challenges.
After rumors, denials and uncertainty, Mayor Sylvester Turner took the final steps toward ending months of speculation.
Houston’s first full-time Hispanic police chief, fluent in Spanish and a man Turner called a “cop’s cop” and a true leader.
“Ability, leadership, management and someone who can master the respect of this diverse city. I am confident I have found him,” Turner said.
I want to take a moment to say thank you to everyone in Austin & Houston for the wonderful well wishes and welcome.— Chief Art Acevedo (@ArtAcevedo) November 18, 2016
Mayor Turner, like many Austin officials and community leaders before him, praised Acevedo for easing tensions with minority communities, as well as implementing more training and emphasizing community policing.
It was easy to find Acevedo at community events, engaging with citizens on social media, and even suiting up to patrol himself.
“I love cops. I love police. I’m 52 years old, and I still love coming to work every single day,” Acevedo said.
Acevedo’s no stranger to controversy, notably several high profile police shootings in Austin.
In April, Acevedo was reprimanded and docked five days’ pay after violating the city manager’s direct order to stop publicly talking about a deadly police shooting during an internal affairs investigation.
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.
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