Police Chief Austin Retiring

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Police Chief Austin Retiring

After nearly three decades with the Columbia Heights Police Department, Police Chief Lenny Austin will retire on Fri, April 26, capping off a 35-year career in law enforcement. 

When Chief Austin landed a job with the Columbia Heights Police Department in 1995, he was one of several hundred vying for police officer positions in the metro area. Austin recalled that the pool of candidates hoping to become police officers was so large that applicants were filling auditoriums to take written tests. Austin was one of three police officers hired by the CHPD at the time, marking the beginning of a 29-year career with the department.  

Before joining Columbia Heights, Austin started as a part-time police officer in Ellsworth, WI. “On my second shift, we had a couple of really interesting calls,” Austin said. “I just fell in love with it. And the rest is history.” 

Despite the challenges Columbia Heights was facing when Austin started, he appreciated the resources that came with a larger department in the metro. “Coming from a smaller town, we were in a much better position to help people,” he said. 

When Austin arrived in Columbia Heights, the City was grappling with distressed neighborhoods and high crime rates. Over the past nearly three decades, he has enjoyed seeing the City evolve and says it’s great to see it on an upward trajectory.  “I would say the City as a whole is in a much better spot than it was in the 90s,” Austin said. “It’s been great to see.”

Austin held several roles as he climbed the ranks within the department, becoming captain in 2008. While serving as captain, Austin earned his master’s degree in Police Leadership from the University of St. Thomas in 2011. When former Police Chief Scott Nadeau left the department in 2017, Austin was selected as the next police chief. 

In 2022, the City conducted a community survey to collect resident feedback on all aspects of the City. On the topic of public safety, 92% of respondents rated the police service as good or excellent, and 93% of respondents said they felt safe in Columbia Heights. Of those who had contact with the police department, 95% rated their interaction favorably. This came as the world was emerging from the pandemic, and the future of law enforcement was being called into question on the national stage. Remarking on the results, Chief Austin said, “I am very proud that given all the challenges that policing has encountered, our officers have shown an incredible level of commitment and given their all to the community.”

When Chief Austin is asked about his time with the City, his answers revolve around the people. He has enormous respect for the people he’s worked alongside at the police department, noting his time working under the leadership of former Chief Nadeau.  

Beyond the police department, Chief Austin has enjoyed partnering closely with Fire Chief Charlie Thompson, City staff, and elected officials. As the police chief, Austin has enjoyed being part of the City’s leadership team and witnessing everyone working together for the betterment of the City, which ultimately benefits public safety. “Everything really does matter when it comes to public safety,” he said. “Having the people we have working in leadership positions makes a world of difference.” Austin also credits the support of the City Council over the past several years. 

As for life after the CHPD, Austin says he’ll miss seeing the department move forward as newer officers grow into their careers. “We’ve got a younger department right now. Some of these officers are just starting out and will do great things. I’ll miss watching that.” 

The City's next police chief will be named and sworn in this week.