As police chief of the Austin Police Department, Art Acevedo is more than a charismatic leader. He’s a down-to-earth, friendly guy who is devoted to his community and standing up for justice, especially for the LGBT community. Public service has been the chief’s lifelong calling.
“I would play cops and robbers when I was kid. I would fight you before I was the bad guy. I always had to be a good guy,” he said.
Six years ago, Acevedo moved from California to Austin to take on a new challenge as APD’s new police chief. He made a commitment to be the most publicly engaged police chief Austin has seen. “The one thing I can say with confidence is that I’ve kept that promise,” he said. In addition to the duties of his highly demanding position, galas, fundraisers and community outreach events for numerous local organizations fill the chief’s calendar. “The most critical role in my job is my interaction with people,” he said. “We’re in the people business. My job is to build emotional capital to make people feel like the department cares.” And as the leader of APD, Acevedo is truly genuine when he says his department cares.
When Acevedo was only four years old, he and his family fled communist Cuba to the United States, settling in Southern California. He vividly remembers his father being malnourished and skinny because there wasn’t enough food to go around for his family. But his parents still had a sense of pride and patriotism towards the U.S. that they passed down to their children. “I was raised with a great sense of giving back to this great nation,” he said. He knew he was either going to be a lawyer, a West Point cadet or a police officer. In the middle of his second semester of law school, he decided to change gears and become a police officer.
As a child, Acevedo spoke only Spanish. The discrimination he faced for not knowing English was an early lesson in being tolerant and sensitive to others later in life. He recounted a time when he was trying to order French fries at McDonald’s and was only able to ask for potatoes. The young cashier hassled him for not knowing the correct word.
Because Acevedo knows what it was like to be on the other end of intolerance and ignorance, he stands up for others suffering from the same injustice. “The fights I would get into were because I was defending others more than myself.” In third grade, he protected his new buddy Armando, who had just moved from Mexico, from bullies who would poke fun of his accent. In high school, his locker was right next to that of an “effeminate gay boy” named Sam. He remembers standing up for him because all the other teenage boys would hit him with their towels.
As he has grown older, Acevedo’s knack for protecting the underdog hasn’t changed. An example is his vigilance for the LGBT community in Austin. The Lesbian & Gay Peace Officer’s Association approached him with the idea of making an “It Gets Better” video. Acevedo happily agreed to participate because he wanted to lead by example and show that everyone is welcomed in his department. He also believes that it takes having a diverse police force to be successful. “In order to be truly effective, you need to be reflective of the community you serve. And that means all segments of that community,” he explained.
From the beginning of his career, Acevedo realized that investing in youth, especially in young Hispanic and black men, is the key to society’s success. Too many young people drop out of school, become involved with drugs and filter into prison systems that impact national security, public safety and the economy. Acevedo is a strong advocate for such youth programs as APD’s summer Explorer programs and the Waterloo District Boy Scouts, a troop comprised of 1,400 scouts from the Eastside. Acevedo said he has had a hard time reconciling the Boy Scouts’ exclusion of gay troop leaders, but he’s optimistic that he can influence the organization from the inside to change their views and policies. “It takes leaders to chip away at that attitude. I don’t want to punish kids for the ‘sins’ of adults,” he said.
Acevedo says Austin is one of the safest cities in America regarding violent crimes, but it also has one of the worst rates for property crimes. “I really worry that if we don’t keep up with the rapid growth of this city that violent crime is going to start spiking. Every time someone breaks into a house, we’re one step closer to someone being raped, someone being murdered, someone committing aggravated assault,” he explained. To combat this, Acevedo plans to leverage technology, like installing more public cameras, as a force multiplier in the city.
When Acevedo isn’t championing causes or serving and protecting the city, he loves to spend time with his wife and son. He’s also a bit of a foodie. You can find him relaxing at the lounge at Eddie V’s or eating the Godfather pizza at Alamo Drafthouse.
There’s no doubt Acevedo is in law enforcement for the long haul. “The day that I can’t drive and get into a police car and take care of business is the day I hang up the badge and gun.”