Retired judge Robert Oliver summed up the 90-minute community conversation Tuesday night about picking Fresno’s next police chief this way:
“What I heard was, people are looking for a strong communicator, who pays attention to detail, can improve the sensitivities of patrol officers, and understands the city or can learn darn fast.”
Then the event moderator pointed to a sign on the back wall of the cafeteria at Dorothy Starr Elementary School in northwest Fresno. It reads “We All Fit Together.”
That is a noble sentiment and a laudable goal. I expect we will hear the same mantra at the four remaining meetings. Something like “We need a chief who will bring the community together.”
The One Thing Everybody Seeks
But, the reality is something entirely different for most residents.
Dennis Nard, a lawyer and northwest resident, hit the nail on the head after the meeting.
“Everyone wants someone who’s going to take care of them — and their problem,” he said.
That was my No. 1 takeaway from the meeting, anyway. The 35 or so citizens who turned out didn’t talk about officer-involved shootings, gangs, community policing, or racial profiling — although I expect those issues will be major points of discussion in the nights ahead.
A Wide Array of Wants
Instead, everyone focused on his or her issue. A few examples:
For Aline Reed, a Fresno High area resident who says she plans to attend all of the meetings, Jerry Dyer’s successor should be someone committed to learning the community. She suggested that the next chief “live” in a “challenged” neighborhood for a couple of months to learn its challenges.
Wendell Stephenson, a Fresno City College professor, wants to see a chief who can improve officer morale and the department’s integrity. He says, too, that the Fresno Police Officers Association should have a role in the selection.
Marissa Corpus, a program coordinator and health educator with Fresno Barrios Unidos, is seeking a chief who instills in officers empathy for transgender residents. She also wants police officers stationed at Fresno schools to build better relationships with students of color.
Rabbi Rick Winer of Temple Beth Israel wants a police chief who will embrace civilian oversight of the police department. The Office of Independent Review, he said, isn’t strong enough to meet the community’s needs.
Others stepping to the microphone talked about quality-of-life issues: porch pirates, drug houses, better traffic enforcement at schools, and slow officer response times.
The Perfect Chief
Not to be flippant, but if you add it all up, the perfect police chief will be able to:
— Order his officers to write tickets for every speeder but me.
— Figure out how to get officers to the door a minute after I call while tracking down murderers, rapists, drug-dealers, and gang-bangers. Do this, too, without asking for money to hire more officers.
— Keep every kid safe at school without hurting the feelings of those students bringing guns, knives, and mayhem to campus.
— Miraculously teach officers how to get a suspect, including those with mental health issues, to comply with 100% of their instructions. This way, Fresno cops never again shoot someone who doesn’t have a gun.
— Instantly fire bad cops without denying them due process or their union protections.
— Keep the homeless from camping at businesses and schools without violating their constitutional rights.
— Honor every request to show up at a public event.
— End the “Tale of Two Cities.”
Fixing Fresno Is Our Job, Not the Police Chief’s
Don’t get me wrong. I love Fresno with all of my heart. And I believe we should always strive to do better. But one of our greatest weaknesses is our enamorment with simple fixes and public saviors. Another is our assignment of blame for problems to others.
Much to our detriment, we’ve been on an endless quest for the next great mayor, police chief, or Fresno Unified superintendent for as long as I can remember. Perhaps we should take stock of ourselves instead.
Police chiefs, mayors, and school superintendents can help accomplish many great things. They do this by implementing sound policies, building strong relationships, and treating all people with respect. The very best leaders inspire us to do better for ourselves, our families, and our neighborhoods.
A city survey asks four questions about Fresno’s next police chief. I have only three.
Do you love Fresno? Why are you qualified for this obviously tough job? Will you to do the right thing — even if political expediency demands otherwise?
The last person I’d hire is someone who claims he or she can do it all.