Richmond police present council with update after report found leadership problems
on March 27, 2019
On Tuesday, the Richmond City Council received an update from Richmond Police Chief Allwyn Brown on police department actions taken in response to a September report that found several efficacy problems with its leadership.
The report last year by MBD Innovations, a public safety consulting group, identified six key issues within the department: a lack of a compelling vision; a disconnect between management and staff; poor morale; poor handling of high-profile disciplinary cases; a lacking relationship between the city manager and the police chief; and an unnecessarily acrimonious relationship between the Richmond Police Officers Association and the Richmond Police Department (RPD) administration.
The report concluded that although nothing suggested the department wasn’t sound in its delivery of police services, progress for the RPD would likely require these six internal issues to be ironed out. These conclusions were drawn from interviews with 20 members of the department, 67 survey responses and a document review.
Brown presented a list of future, in-progress, or already-implemented improvements at the meeting. He announced that the department was introducing a three-year strategic succession plan, to be shown to the council in about 30 days, as estimated by Brown. He also said they had improved schedules and are exploring wellness benefits for their employees.
Brown said the department is now providing more training, more opportunities for officers who want to advance their careers, and has strengthened the overall police succession hierarchy by formalizing acting sergeant and acting lieutenant positions. He maintained that his email is always available to police staff who want to offer concerns or suggestions, and that they could talk to him as he walked around the department, or if his door was open. One unusually specific item of his report was a note that employees are now allowed to wear facial hair, a change meant to boost morale.
According to Brown, the city manager issue cited in the report is no longer relevant, as he said the police have worked in harmony with new City Manager Carlos Martinez since he was appointed in November.
On the topic of high-profile cases and community engagement, Brown spoke several times about taking lessons from the past and redoubling efforts for programs that have been shown to work. He noted a program called Pound the Beat, introduced in 2016, which requires officers to engage with their coverage area communities for at least one day a month by getting out of their cars and talking with residents.
Councilmember Jael Myrick asked Brown how the police might reinstill community trust. Myrick said that though he personally believes the RPD is the most community-oriented department in the country, he thinks that community mistrust is related to recent high-profile cases—though he did not specify which cases—that weren’t publically handled in the best way. Myrick called for better handling of disciplinary cases and more transparency.
One major policing scandal in 2016, which swept up over 30 police officers across the Bay Area including at least 11 from Richmond, involved the sexual exploitation of a teenager named Celeste Guap. The resulting investigation led to the termination of a Richmond officer. Early this month, The East Bay Times acquired records about the case through the police transparency law SB 1421, though the city retained most of its records. The MBD report harshly criticized Brown for his role in the Guap case, particularly his disciplinary leniency with officers early on and his decision to send Guap to a Florida rehabilitation center, out of contact with both her attorneys and the press.
Another case mentioned at the meeting was that of Richard “Pedie” Perez, who was killed by an RPD officer in 2014. Last year, Richmond’s Citizens Police Review Commission concluded that excessive force had been used in the shooting.
More recently, on February 27, a Richmond police officer shot an unarmed suspect; an article published this week in the East Bay Express alleged that the RPD could be involved in a cover-up related to the incident.
“People not knowing things, people not knowing the information, allows the speculation to run wild, and that allows people to come up with their own explanation as to why certain things happened,” Myrick said.
Brown stressed the importance of confidentiality in personnel investigations. He said that the integrity of those investigations needs to be protected so they will be best suited to find the facts. Brown also spoke sbout the difficulty of correcting a narrative when confidentiality is broken and a story slips out into the public.
“There’s always going to be a conflict between high-profile misconduct investigation and sort of what the public or the news media-favored narrative is,” Brown said. “And the problem is that when you’re behind that, it’s hard to correct it. Even when you show up with facts, people don’t want to hear them.”
Myrick said he understood Brown’s concerns, but nonetheless argued for greater transparency, especially regarding decisions that have no overwhelming requirement for privacy. “Whatever we can make public in terms of those decisions, we should make public,” Myrick said.
Mike Parker, part of the Richmond Progressive Alliance steering committee, cited several recent allegations of high-profile RPD misconduct—including those relating to Celeste Guap, Pedie Perez, and the February 27 shooting, as well as police conduct in the death of Rashanda Franklin and the firing or pushing out of Captain Mark Gagan. He suggested the councilmembers read the East Bay Express article which claims that Brown’s official account of the February officer-involved shooting omits key facts and is contradicted by witness accounts. The article goes on to allege that the department seems to be regressing under Brown, who was appointed in 2016, and that Martinez, appointed in November, has tacitly approved misconduct and encouraged poor behavior by establishing an environment of secrecy around his office and the department.
Parker suggested that the answer is not to be found in letting the police oversee themselves, but to increase the power of the Citizens Police Review Commission, which currently operates with only five of nine members. Parker said that, for these reasons, he thought Mayor Tom Butt’s decision to not appoint new members to the commission last week was a big mistake.
“I’d like to argue that this idea that the police should police themselves better just doesn’t make sense as something we should depend on,” Parker said. “We don’t agree with that idea with anything else in this society. … What that means to me is that we need to be talking more about the police commission and how we can strengthen our police commission, because it’s only an independent police commission that will make the difference.”
Councilmember Nat Bates, a retired probation officer, argued that events that affect the reputation of police nationwide reflect back unfairly upon departments like the RPD. He said that it only takes one complaint to tarnish the reputation of the police, while dozens and dozens of people who have benefitted from their work don’t come forward publically. In Richmond especially, Bates said, he feels there is great appreciation for the police.
“When a few people have negative comments, I don’t think this council should take [them] too seriously. Most of them are criminals that are complaining in the first place,” Bates said. “They have a right to complain; they’ve been busted, or arrested, or they’re facing prosecution or whatever. But listen to the people who are basically law-abiding and not incriminated in any violation. That has a different connotation, in my observation.”
This comment prompted Rick Perez, who’s been advocating for heightened police oversight for years after his son, Richard “Pedie” Perez, was killed by an RPD officer, to inform Bates after the meeting of the oft-cited, though somewhat disputed, statistic from two studies in the 1990s, highlighted by the National Center for Women and Policing, that 40 percent of police officers’ families experience domestic violence, compared to only 10 percent of families from the general population. Bates spoke with Perez briefly, smiled, and walked away.
“Cops tend to be control freaks,” Perez said after the meeting. “God’s perfect, but I’m not, and neither are they.”
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