Austin Police Chief Abruptly Retires Amid Staffing Shortages, Impact of ‘Defund the Police’

NTD Newsroom
By NTD Newsroom
August 23, 2023US News
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Austin Police Chief Abruptly Retires Amid Staffing Shortages, Impact of ‘Defund the Police’
A police officer secures the gate at the state capitol as pro-abortion protesters march nearby in Austin, Texas, on June 25, 2022. (Suzanne Cordeiro/AFP via Getty Images)

The chief of police in Austin, Texas, abruptly retired on Monday following major staffing shortages, failed union contract negotiations, and the impact of the “defund the police” movement.

Austin Police Department Chief Joseph Chacon announced his retirement “with a heavy heart” on X, formerly Twitter.

“This is one of the hardest messages that I’ve ever had to write,” he said.

“A few months ago, I began seriously considering retirement and after long conversations with my wife and family, and thoughtful prayer, I have now made the decision that the moment is right to hang it up on a 25-year career with APD.”

Mr. Chacon said that he had never thought of becoming the police chief, which he called the pinnacle of his career an “absolute honor.”

“Please hold your heads up,” he urged his former colleagues, “keep fighting the good fight, and honor the profession by keeping the citizens of this city safe.”

He thanked officers for “making this department look so good through your tireless and selfless service, and for making this one of the safest big cities in the country.”

But he did not mention the reasons for his departure.

Slashed Budget

The chief’s resignation comes as the Austin Police Department (APD) continues to be plagued by staffing shortages and as crime and violent crime skyrocket in the capital of the Lone Star state.

Swept by the “defund the police” movement following the death of George Floyd, the Democrat-run Austin City Council slashed the APD’s budget in 2020 by about $150 million—a third of its funding.

mass-shooting-Austin
Police investigate the scene of a mass shooting in the Sixth Street entertainment district area of Austin, Texas, on June 12, 2021. (Nuri Vallbona/File Photo/Reuters)

A state law passed in 2021 forced the city to restore the APD’s budget, but by then, many police officers were already on their way out. At the same time, the city paused the police academy to review the training program over concerns over its perceived “military-style” approach.

Plagued by increasing staffing problems, the ADP announced in January 2021 that it would no longer be showing up for calls deemed non-emergencies—such as theft or after a burglary.

When Problems Began

According to Thomas Villarreal, president of the Austin Police Association, the problems began in 2017 when the city council voted down a new union police contract for the first time ever.

The contract was again held back the next year as the city council argued it first wanted to “reimagine” the police department. The contract still hasn’t been signed, as it was again refused in February.

In an Aug. 21 interview with Fox News, Mr. Villarreal called the working conditions on the force “miserable.” He said the APD currently has a staff of about 1,475 when it should be 2,000.

Even adequately staffing the 911 answering service has become difficult.

“It’s gotten so bad that we’re putting some sworn personnel over in 911 to help answer calls on overtime basis,” Mr. Villarreal said, adding that it’s not unusual for people to be put on hold for 10 minutes or more on busy moments such as weekend nights.

Compared to 2020, murder has increased by 30 percent in Austin, auto theft by 77 percent, and aggravated assault by 18 percent.

NTD Photo
Austin police investigate a homicide shooting at a demonstration against police violence in downtown Austin, Texas, on July 25, 2020. (Stephen Spillman/Austin American-Statesman via AP, File)

‘Well-Respected’

In a message on X, Texas’ largest law enforcement union organization CLEAT (Combined Law Enforcement Associations of Texas) called Mr. Cachon a “well-respected officer” who stood “no chance against an anti-police council and rogue district attorney who has had him in his crosshairs from day one on the job.”

Mayor Kirk Watson responded to the chief’s announcement with a brief statement thanking him for his “integrity and deep commitment.”

“I appreciate his work to cultivate mutual respect and trust during a challenging time in which we’re all trying to find the right balance in policing,” the mayor said.

“We wish him a well-deserved and fulfilling retirement, and we are immensely grateful for his years of service.”

Chief of staff Robin Henderson will become the interim police chief, assisted for a brief period by Mr. Chacon as his advisor.

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