The city of Berkeley will embark on a nationwide search to find a new police chief after the former chief retired abruptly last month.
The search is likely to take six months, the city manager told council members in a recent memo, and the process will focus on finding diverse candidates and encouraging community engagement.
“The engagement process will be robust and is one that will be approached thoughtfully and strategically,” City Manager Dee Williams-Ridley wrote.
Former Police Chief Andrew Greenwood retired in early March after 35 years of service, to focus on family and home life, he said, and put Capt. Jennifer Louis into the interim chief spot while the search is underway. Greenwood became interim chief in 2016 when former Police Chief Michael Meehan left suddenly. There was no nationwide search preceding Greenwood’s appointment in the months that followed and some community members were critical of the city for failing to cast a wider net.
The city’s first task, Williams-Ridley wrote in her memo, will be to find a recruitment firm to lead the community process, handle recruitment, perform initial assessments and background checks of candidates, and coordinate the interview process.
The recruitment process “will be a nationwide search that is collaborative, inclusive and considers the needs and priorities of the community, the Police Department, and the City Council,” the city manager wrote. The recruitment firm must have a “proven ability to attract a diverse pool of candidates.”
The firm will also “develop a profile of the community and the prospective Chief,” Williams-Ridley wrote.
The process “will be rooted in engagement that seeks to uncover the issues that the new Chief of Police should address in their first year on the job,” she said, “what professional experiences and accomplishments the new Chief of Police should bring to the position, and what skills and abilities the new Chief of Police should have to be successful in Berkeley.”
Williams-Ridley will ultimately present her recommendation regarding the final candidate to the City Council during a closed session. But the appointment won’t be final until council votes on it at a public meeting where community members will have a chance to comment.
The city believes it will take about six months to find a new chief, according to the memo. Once the recruitment firm is on board, the city manager wrote, officials will come up with a timeline for the community engagement work that will happen.
“It is my intent to provide frequent updates to the Mayor, Council, and community to ensure transparency in the process from beginning to end,” Williams-Ridley wrote, “and it is my commitment to all of Berkeley to remain open and flexible as I work with the recruiter who will help guide the process that will align the needs, priorities and voices from our community.”
The city manager provided the update on the nationwide police chief search to council members in mid-March but the city said Friday that there have been no developments to report since that time.
Recent months have been a time of significant change for the Berkeley Police Department, with officials and community members looking to reimagine how policing takes place in the city. In February, city officials voted to curtail the type of traffic stops Berkeley police officers can do and work is underway more broadly in the city to look at putting unarmed civilians in charge of most traffic stops. (Such a sweeping reform would, however, require changes to state law.)
Council members have also recently changed city policy around probation and parole searches to limit how they are handled and enacted new rules to make use-of-force reporting and procedures more stringent. Officials and many community members have said the changes are needed to address racial disparities in policing and address historic inequities.
The city is also looking at how to shift certain resources and duties, such as the response to nonviolent mental health calls, away from police and has asked the city auditor’s office to review police calls for service, overtime and a variety of other operations to see how things work now and what might be improved.
The city manager routinely shares updates during City Council meetings about all the work underway to reimagine policing in Berkeley and also posts that information online.
More recently, the city launched a new community task force focused on all the various aspects related to reimagining public safety and is also working to create a new Police Accountability Board, approved by the voters last year, that will replace the city’s Police Review Commission. Berkeleyside is following both of those processes closely and will share developments as they occur.