HOUSTON (AP) — Austin's police chief is moving to Houston to head the police force in the nation's fourth-largest city, which has long faced criticism for excessive use of deadly force.
Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner announced the hiring of Art Acevedo, who had headed Austin's police force for nearly a decade, at a news conference Thursday afternoon. He fills a post vacated by the February retirement of Charles McClelland. Martha Montalvo had served as interim chief since then.
Acevedo said his priorities as new chief will include meeting with members of his department along with local residents and community leaders to get their ideas on how to improve the agency.
"I am very happy to be here in the city of Houston. The only person who needs to fear the police is the criminal," Acevedo said, briefly speaking in Spanish.
Turner said he chose Acevedo for the job in part because the police chief values balancing law enforcement along with maintaining good community relations.
Acevedo's tenure in Austin was marked by efforts to strengthen ties with community groups. He has been an active user of Twitter, tweeting about community events and his support of police officers.
"Folks are quick to critique when officers fall short and they should, but we also need to lift up and acknowledge good policing," Acevedo tweeted on Nov. 12.
But Acevedo has also faced recent criticism from some community leaders and police commanders over several use-of-force incidents, including the 2015 arrest of a black teacher who was thrown to the ground by a white officer and the February fatal shooting of an unarmed, naked 17-year-old.
After the February fatal shooting, Acevedo was criticized by the police union after speaking about the shooting at a news conference while standing with groups such as Black Lives Matter.
In a survey released earlier this year by the Austin Police Association , 52 percent of officers thought morale within the department was poor and 42 percent of officers said they didn't think Acevedo could effectively lead the department in the future.
Acevedo will take over a police department — with about 5,000 officers — that has been criticized by some Houston community leaders and activists over the agency's recurring issues with use of deadly force. Nearly every officer-involved shooting in Houston for more than a decade has been deemed justified by the law enforcement agency.
"We feel that the police department needs to be reviewed very carefully. We look forward to meeting the new chief and seeing what inroads we can make," said Johnny Mata, a longtime activist with the Greater Houston Coalition for Justice.
Turner also announced on Thursday that Samuel Peña, the fire chief in El Paso, has been hired to lead the Houston Fire Department.
Follow Juan A. Lozano on Twitter at www.twitter.com/juanlozano70