Saturday, March 13, 2010

Acevedo Finalist to Lead Dallas Police

Acevedo says he sought opportunity after it was presented

Tony Plohetski
Austin American-Statesman
March 8, 2010

Austin Police Chief Art Acevedo, within hours of applying for the job, was named one of six finalists Monday to become the next leader of the Dallas police force.

Panels of Dallas residents, city officials and police union representatives will interview Acevedo later this month, but it was unclear Monday when the city would name its new chief .

Acevedo, who has been in Austin since July 2007, said he applied after the position "was presented to me." He had privately informed several top city officials in recent days that he was considering applying for the job but had not told them he'd formally entered the process.

"I want to assure the men and women of the Austin Police Department that I very much enjoy my work with this great department," Acevedo said in a statement. "The decision to respond to this opportunity is not an indication of my dissatisfaction, in any way, with this outstanding police department."

The announcement comes at a time when Acevedo's prominence in Austin — and the law enforcement community nationally — continues to grow.

Some City Hall insiders Monday night questioned whether Acevedo might attempt to use the possibility of becoming Dallas' chief to bolster his Austin salary, which was about $180,000 last year, or to obtain other perks such as an employment contract with the city.

In his statement, Acevedo mentioned that the average tenure of a major city chief is three to five years and that he has no contract with the City of Austin — only City Manager Marc Ott does.

Ott said he thinks any discussion about a counteroffer is premature.

"I don't want to presuppose what is going to happen in that regard," he said.

However, Acevedo, who oversees about 1,600 officers, said he would probably accept an offer in Dallas if he and the city agree on the salary and other terms. Dallas Police Chief David Kunkle , who plans to leave in April, earned about $177,000 last year.

The Dallas opening comes during a time of mounting strain between Acevedo and some city leaders, who have raised concerns, in particular, about his decisions to bypass some officers for promotions.

Acevedo has lost two recent appeals by officers who were bypassed, and hearings for a third began this week.

Some City Council members earlier this year expressed frustration at having to create a high-ranking position for an officer who won his appeal. Acevedo had not left a slot vacant while the matter was being resolved.

Acevedo also has increasingly garnered the spotlight at community events, including a recent anti-hate rally downtown, during which he received thunderous applause and cheers while City Council members looked on.

City officials offered mixed reactions Monday night to Acevedo's possible departure. Several talked as if Acevedo would probably be hired.

"He will be hard to replace," Mayor Lee Leffingwell said. "In a way, I hope he doesn't get it, but I wish him well. He has a career to think about, and his career is ahead of him."

Acevedo, 45, moved to Austin after spending more than two decades with the California Highway Patrol. He found a department that was under U.S. Department of Justice scrutiny for how it uses force against minorities and has worked in recent years to improve police and community relations.

Council Member Laura Morrison said, "I wish him well and good luck if he's looking to a new future."

However, Council Member Mike Martinez said he has no indication that Acevedo would leave. "I think it is premature to sound any alarms right now," Martinez said.

But Martinez said he isn't surprised that Dallas encouraged Acevedo to apply.

According to a City of Dallas memo, other contenders for the job include the San Jose, Calif., and Louisville, Ky., police chiefs. The city's job posting said the next chief would oversee about 3,600 officers and a $410 million budget.

"The next Chief will be expected to continue growing the sworn component of the department while confronted with budget challenges," the posting said.

Among the rank-and-file, Austin officers said Monday night that they were surprised by the announcement, said Sgt. Wayne Vincent, the police union president.

Relations between the union and Acevedo also have grown increasingly frayed, culminating last month with the chief's decision to take to court an arbitrator's opinion to reinstate a fired officer.

"I wish him luck if (Dallas) is what he wants to pursue," Vincent said.

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