In the nearly five years since Art Acevedo signed on as Austin’s cop, he has changed the face of the department – turning it from an organization that appeared reluctant at best to engage with the media and the community into a department that is now defined by the energy and charisma of its 47-year-old leader, reports the Austin Chronicle. He’s led the department through a handful of officer-involved shootings and a federal Department of Justice review prompted by allegations that Austin police have used force disproportionately against minorities; he’s fired 21 cops and handed out 187 lesser suspensions; he’s butted heads with the police union boss and the city’s police monitor; he’s restructured major department operations – including how it patrols the city, how it handles officer discipline and how it investigates its own.
So far at least, he’s weathered every storm with his reputation as an affable straight-shooter largely intact. Acevedo is not without his critics, sometimes quite harsh ones, particularly those who say that he’s too quick to justify officers’ use of force. Others say the chief’s outgoing manner and reputation only serve to disguise institutionalized practices in a department that either resists change or endures it only grudgingly, after years of public pressure. Longtime department critics, including Nelson Linder of the Austin NAACP, offer some praise for a chief who they say has helped to turn the department into a more community-friendly force. “The biggest thing is visibility,” Linder says. “He talks to people and makes himself visible to every segment of the population. I think that is his strength.”