Interim Chief Jennifer Louis, right, may become permanent chief on May 9. She debriefs officers after a drill involving a bank heist in a 2016 file photo. Photo: Emilie Raguso

The much-debated confirmation of a new police chief is going back before the City Council Tuesday, with police accountability officials saying the department still has too many unanswered questions for the city to pick a top cop.

Interim Chief Jen Louis has led the department since March 2021, when former Chief Andrew Greenwood retired.

The union that represents city police said that is way longer than was necessary and endorsed Louis’s confirmation.

The head of the Downtown Berkeley Association has also endorsed Louis.

But several citizen groups and the city’s director of police accountability have asked the city to hold off on the confirmation until allegations of racism, quotas and anti-homeless sentiment in the department’s bike squad have been fully aired out.

In November, when the appointment was put on hold, City Manager Dee Williams-Ridley said that both she and Louis “feel that it’s very, very valuable and important that we listen to the community and that we try and do everything that we can to ensure public trust, especially in this appointment.”

“We will return the item once an investigation has been completed,” Williams-Ridley said at the time.

Louis and Williams-Ridley said at the time Louis had no knowledge of the bike team’s alleged behavior.

A fired officer, Corey Shedoudy, alleged in November that a sergeant, Darren Kacalek, had run a quota system and sent the council copies of text messages between team members containing racist and anti-homeless remarks.

The city hired San Francisco-based law firm Swanson & McNamara LLP to conduct the investigation. As of May 1, it remained open with no projected end date, a city spokesperson confirmed.

City officials have not responded to inquiries asking Williams-Ridley to reconcile her comments in November with the rescheduling of the appointment for Tuesday. Nor have they responded as to why the proposed salary for the position has jumped nearly 18% since November, from $256,125 to $301,820.

Kacalek, who was put on administrative leave following Shedoudy’s allegations, remained there as of May 2, the department confirmed.

The council took up the issue in a closed-door session on April 13. They didn’t hold a vote at that meeting, but an attorney for the city said they could have.

The Brown Act, the body of state law governing public meetings, “authorizes legislative bodies to make appointments in closed session, however such a vote would be reported publicly,” City Attorney Farimah Brown said in an email in response to an inquiry from Berkeleyside.

The Berkeley Police Association, the union that represents police officers and supervisors, expressed unequivocal support for Louis in a May 4 letter to Mayor Jesse Arreguín and Williams-Ridley.

Louis “has and continues to lead the department through the most consequential staffing crisis ever faced by the department,” wrote police Sgt. Joe LeDoux, the union president. “She has challenged her staff to look for unconventional means to recruit and to find creative ways to keep those working tirelessly to safeguard our beautiful city from violent offenders.”

Roughly three dozen opponents of Louis’s confirmation gathered at a protest Thursday outside police headquarters, criticizing the department generally and Louis specifically for what they see as over-policing Berkeleyans of color and homeless residents, among other issues.

Rent Commissioner Nathan Mizell speaks at a protest May 4, 2023 against confirming Jen Louis as police chief. Photo: Alex N. Gecan
Rent Commissioner Nathan Mizell, far left, speaks at a protest on May 4, 2023, against confirming Jen Louis as police chief. Photo: Alex N. Gecan

Nathan Mizell, a city rent commissioner and former vice chairman of the Police Accountability Board, accused the police department of not living up to its obligation to share information with the board and the city manager of overstepping her authority in proceeding with the appointment without the board weighing in following Shedoudy’s allegations.

The board has been conducting its own investigation into Shedoudy’s allegations, but is still waiting on documents and information it has been asking for since December, according to memos from Hansel Aguilar, the city’s director of police accountability. They have asked the city to pause the appointment until they have finished their inquiry.

“I have experienced racist police behavior since I was a child,” said Ayanna Davis, deputy executive director of South Berkeley-based Healthy Black Families. “I have seen it in Berkeley in multiple ways.”

Davis said that, despite Berkeley’s reputation as a liberal city, it remains a hotbed of racist oppression.

“Seeing young men that I helped raise and love taken off the streets, no accountability in the police department, no accountability in the prisons,” Davis said. “Our people are going to prisons and jails; they are being mistreated, abused, traumatized.”

Friends of Adeline, a citizens’ group based out of South Berkeley, took the position that long-standing issues of racism, intimidation and anti-homeless sentiment have gone unaddressed under Louis’s interim leadership period.

“We need the City Council to listen and select someone who looks to the people who live here to learn and understand the very important needs of our community,” Gene Turitz, a member of Friends of Adeline, said Thursday.

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Alex N. Gecan joined Berkeleyside in 2023 as a senior reporter covering public safety. He has covered criminal justice, courts and breaking and local news for The Middletown Press, Stamford Advocate and...