Four years ago, Louisville hired its first black police chief after fatal police shootings of African Americans sparked months of near-explosive friction between minorities and officers, says the Austin American-Statesman. Chief Robert White began trying to calm the community by holding town meetings, establishing an open-door policy with citizens and firing rogue officers. Criticism of the department in the black community started to wane.
As Austin begins narrowing the field of nine police chief candidates, some neighborhood representatives, business leaders and former politicians suggest the Louisville formula for hiring a chief in Austin, where relations have been strained between police and minority communities. Some U.S. cities hoped to achieve similar results by hiring minority chiefs – only to have it backfire. Roy Butler, a former mayor who has served on a citizen oversight committee for the Austin Police Department, doesn’t think race should play a part in Austin’s search. “It should be based on experience and competence,” he said. “If it was on the basis of race, I think a great part of the community would resent that.” Five of the nine finalists are minorities, including Acting Chief Cathy Ellison, who is African American. She has received mixed reviews from the minority community.