AUSTIN (KXAN) — Eleven months into his tenure as interim head of the Austin Police Department, Chief Brian Manley says he wants to build on the community relationships his predecessor started.
Manley visited two National Night Out events in Austin Tuesday night while his assistant chiefs and commanders visited others. “I pick the ones where I’m hoping to get to interact with a lot of the community and hopefully address concerns, questions, or issues that they have,” he told KXAN outside the gathering for the Booker T. Washington Terraces community in east Austin.
Bridging those gaps between the people who live here and police is one effect Carolyn Velasquez wants to see. She’s president of the residents’ council at the public housing apartments and she said some of her neighbors aren’t comfortable calling police. “There are a lot of residents here that, like, take care of one another and are scared that the police might do something” to make the situation worse.
“There was a stabbing the other night,” she said, “and, like, nobody wanted to call the police.”
Manley aims to bridge those gaps, too, something he’s worked on since taking the reins last November. “I think [former Austin Police] Chief [Art] Acevedo was very strong in the relationships that he’s built,” Manley said. “I learned a lot from him, and I have picked up the ball and run with it.”
But he acknowledged that events like National Night Out attract only a small portion of the people he needs to attract in order to strengthen those relationships. That’s why he says the department is trying to move away from events and meetings that APD commanders set up.
“We’re working with communities to identify events that already exist, meetings that are already taking place that we can attend with them,” he said, “instead of having them come to us.”
Velasquez appreciates the effort. She likes what she’s seen of Manley so far, she said, and she was hopeful that Tuesday’s get-together was the start of convincing her neighbors that “we got our fire engine people behind us, and our police department.”
Manley told KXAN he wants to keep up the work he’s been doing as the permanent police chief when the new city manager eventually takes over and begins the search for Acevedo’s replacement. He’s appreciated the responsibility of leading the department, he said, and feels it’s where he belongs.
To keep improving those relationships, officers need more uncommitted time — in which they’re not running from call to call — to visit and get to know the people they serve, according to an analysis completed by the Matrix Consulting Group in August 2016.
That report recommended officers have 35-45 percent of their on-duty time to engage people in their communities; APD officers now fall far short, with only about 22 percent uncommitted time.