First reported by the Austin American-Statesman, Manley’s announcement comes only weeks after his 30th anniversary with the Austin Police Department (APD). Starting as a beat cop in 1991, Manley rose through the ranks and was eventually appointed chief in 2018.
In a press conference at the APD headquarters, Manley stated, “It has been my greatest pride to, not only serve among but be given the opportunity to lead the men and women of the Austin Police Department.”
“I know in my heart it is time to explore the next opportunity,” he continued, stating he doesn’t know what lies ahead.
City Manager Spencer Cronk said of Manley, “He has been a dedicated public servant to this community and has proudly led the men and women of our police department.”
A homegrown chief, Manley had weathered a constant barrage from progressive activists and city council members alike throughout his tenure. Between officer-involved shooting incidents, such as that of Mike Ramos, and the turmoil of last summer which juxtaposed city officials with their police department, Manley’s tenure since the Austin bombings has been marked with antagonism from certain segments of the community.
After weeks of massive protests, which occasionally morphed into riots, the city council pulled the trigger on a $150 million cut and redirection from the APD budget. Predating and throughout this time of unrest, crime in Austin had spiked to the point where the murder rate in October of 2020 was 43 percent higher than the prior year.
In the immediate aftermath of the initial protests over the death of George Floyd, Councilmember Greg Casar called for Manley’s resignation. Progressives like Casar criticized APD’s use of force during the protests and riots. At one point, those protests overtook I-35, blocking traffic. Police responded by pushing the masses off the highway.
The repercussion of the protests still lingers, as the APD headquarters on 8th Street now has a security fence around its steps.
Public safety has been a paramount issue in Austin, historically a very low crime city compared to others of its size, since the council’s recission of a camping and laying ban. The city created an incentive for homeless individuals to leave shelters and camp on public grounds.
This also led to a noticeable and immediate increase in violent crimes involving homeless individuals either as perpetrators or victims.
Governor Abbott has even jumped into the fray, advocating reprimand against cities that “defund their police” and proposing a state-monitored “safety zone” in downtown Austin.
Attrition has roiled the department, not only among its average ranks but also its executive staff.
Moving forward, Manley maintained his confidence in the department’s ability to continue serving its community. “We may be imperfect, but I promise you the men and women serving our community have hearts of gold and are here to give back.”
“I know times are difficult and the policing profession is under scrutiny, and reimagination and redesign — which is going on here in Austin. But I can stand here with confidence, knowing APD will come out of this a strong agency and we have positioned ourselves to do so,” he added.
That “reimagination” includes the broad restructuring of the department done in tandem with the budget cut. Multiple departments have been removed from under the APD umbrella and delegated to the city
Ken Casaday, president of the Austin Police Association, reacted to the news, telling The Texan, “Chief Brian Manley loyally served the City of Austin for the past 30 years of his life. Only officers and their families know and understand the true sacrifices he and his family have made for him to serve our city with honesty and integrity.”
Councilmember Mackenzie Kelly told The Texan, “Chief Manley has been impressive since day one on the force, and has really shined in his role as APD Chief. A servant leader to his core, he has humbly borne politically-fueled attacks on public safety and on his own stellar performance.”
“Chief Manley has been relentlessly fair and compassionate with our Austin community, and a firm voice in support of our valued officers,” she continued. “He may be forever known as the reason the Austin bombings stopped, but there are 30 years of other quiet accomplishments to consider, for which we will always remain thankful. I wish him peace and joy in his retirement.”
Mayor Steve Adler did not return a request for comment by the time of publishing.
Tracey Graff — an Austinite, wife, and mother with children at the University of Texas — lamented Manley’s departure, telling The Texan, “I have no faith in our council’s leadership. They could do Austinites a favor by staying out of law enforcement and allow Governor Abbott to take over.”
“Council’s relentless attack on APD and their unanimous vote to defund APD reflects the views of some progressive activists but does not reflect the majority of Austin’s citizens.”
City Manager Spencer Cronk declined to specify what kind of chief he’d be searching for as Manley’s replacement. To date, no interim chief has been named. The Texan is informed names that may be considered are APD Chief of Staff Troy Gay, Assistant City Manager Ray Arellano, and Director of the Office of Police Oversight Farah Muscadin.
While the decision is technically Cronk’s to make, the city council appoints the city manager and thus has some influence over it.
Now with Kelly’s conservative voice on the council, the uniformity of years past has been disrupted. In early December, Casar — arguably the politically leftmost councilmember — was bullish about his chances of securing the mayor pro tem position.
After Kelly’s election, momentum built in opposition to Casar with Councilmember Alison Alter spearheading the competition. Eventually, Casar stepped aside for Councilmember Natasha Harper-Madison to serve as mayor pro tem for the remainder of 2021 while Alter will assume the position in 2022.
Additionally, the city council moved away from its unified support for the 2019 camping ban recission — the reinstatement of which will be on the May ballot. Some councilmembers introduced their own, watered-down version of the camping ban reinstatement — notably, not until after it became clear the question would make the ballot. Nonetheless, it is a departure from the lock-step support featured even into the fall of 2020.
Whether these developing divisions play a role in choosing Manley’s successor remains to be seen. Cronk, as his response on Friday indicates, is keeping his cards close to his chest for now.
About his biggest lesson learned as chief, Manley told The Texan, “The biggest lesson I’ve learned is that this is a dynamic job and be prepared for anything because as soon as you think you might know a direction you might go, there is likely to be a voice you hadn’t heard or an action you hadn’t anticipated. And you have to be ready to make that switch quickly.”
The Texan obtained the email Manley sent to his department on Friday morning. It is transcribed in full below.
It is with a wide range of emotions that I send this email announcing my retirement from APD, effective March 28, 2021. I met with the City Manager on Feb. 1st, 30 years to the date my father pinned my badge at my cadet graduation and I began my career, and informed him of my decision. It has been an amazing three decades of public service. At times it seems like it went by in the blink of an eye, and at other times it felt every bit of 30 years. I know I will miss that which makes APD so special to me…and that is you. You all are an incredible group of men and women, civilian and commissioned, who work so hard in protection and service to our community…and you give selflessly of yourselves in the process. I will miss you and pray that you remain safe and protected in your continued service. I will also miss serving our community and our partnership with them as we worked to ensure Austin remains ‘One Austin, Safer Together.’ Please continue to serve with distinction and professionalism, as our profession demands it and our community deserves it. Always remember the name on your shoulder identifies the community you serve, and the name on your chest indicates the family you represent…always ensure your actions honor both. I am humbled and appreciative to have served with you and I will always just be a phone call away.
I do not know whether I will remain in law enforcement or enter the private sector, but I am excited for my next endeavor. Nothing will match the tremendous sense of pride I have in APD and our personnel, the sense of honor I have had in leading our organization, the sense of gratitude and admiration I have for each of you as you continue giving back day after day in service to our community, and the successful partnerships we have shared with our community.
Be Blessed, and as always, Stay Safe,
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Brad Johnson is a senior reporter for The Texan and an Ohio native who graduated from the University of Cincinnati in 2017. He is an avid sports fan who most enjoys watching his favorite teams continue their title drought throughout his cognizant lifetime. In his free time, you may find Brad quoting Monty Python productions and trying to calculate the airspeed velocity of an unladen swallow.