By Cheryl Brown –
The toxic environment of San Bernardino’s City Hall is believed to be responsible for the early exit of San Bernardino Police Chief, Keith Kilmer. This past Monday, he officially announced his retirement citing family responsibilities.
"My decision to retire comes down to a personal decision made by myself and my family," said Kilmer. "I'm proud of what our Police Department has been able to accomplish during my time here, and am confident that it will continue to make incredible strides for this community. I just want to make sure we go through a process that provides some stability in the department as a successor is selected," he continued.
Many believe that was the diplomatic reason he gave for leaving. Most city hall watchers have seen the contentious displays between City Attorney Jim Penman and Kilmer for the past two years. Councilmember Rikke Van Johnson blames his leaving on a toxic city hall.
"Ever since day one, he (Kilmer) has been confronted with animosity from the City Attorney. We have a toxic environment in our city government," he said.
Penman disagrees with the assessment that city hall is toxic. "San Bernardino is a tough town to police," he said.
"But I don't think we are at each other's throats. A politician does not have the power to make a police chief leave if he doesn't control his budget or have the power to hire and fire.
It is a weak police chief that would leave or allow that to happen," he said. He also noted he doesn't see Chief Kilmer falling into that category.
San Bernardino Mayor Patrick Morris said, "Chief Kilmer has been an outstanding police chief for the City of San Bernardino. His contributions to the community have played a significant role in the City's continuing drop in crime."
Mayor Morris added that he intends to work closely with the Common Council and the City Manager to begin the recruitment process immediately.
"We are confident that we will attract a successor who is eager to continue our city's success in improving public safety," said Morris.
It was not soon after Kilmer arrived that he and Penman clashed wi th Penman even inviting him to step outside, a charge that Penman denies.
"Those who overheard the discussion didn't know if it was for a political discussion or not. If I challenged him to a fight it was his duty to make an arrest on the spot," stated Penman.
A disagreement arose early on when Penman sent out flyers that included the San Bernardino Police Department’s seal without permission. Penman also said this was not true and the flyer in question had the City Attorney's seal only on it. But at a council meeting Kilmer told Penman that his department would not be used for his personal police force.
“Kilmer knows policing and he knows the law. He is also an attorney and would butt heads with Penman. It was always a fight. He just got tired, it is always a fight,” said an unnamed source. While Chief Kilmer plays down the toxicity in city hall he does agree that sometimes the politics can make it difficult.
"Sometimes the political divisiveness can distract from being as effective as we can be. It is a difficult environment not just for the police department but also for other staff in city hall," said Kilmer.
Many elected officials and community members are calling Kilmer's exit a tremendous loss for the community.
Councilman, Mayor Pro Tem Tobin Brinker said, "it will be a significant loss for the community, just at a time when the community is addressing the festering longterm problems."
City Manager Charles McNeely said, "we hate to lose him. It is rare to get a person who has a passion to engage the community and to involve them in police service. He listens and corrects the problem.”
“It seems San Bernardino ran out the last Chief Mike Bilt, just as he started making inroads into the community, and he had come up through the ranks,” said one who fears retaliation.
Some people have suggested that Penman is proud of running people out in San Bernardino and has bragged publicly about running out city managers and pol ice chiefs before. Penman said he was not aware of the rumor and denied he said it.
Johnson said that when Kilmer came people were skeptical, he made certain promises at a 2009 town hall meeting.
"They thought he was just another police officer swinging his guns, not willing to get out of his ivory tower to communicate wi th the people," said Johnson. His worst critics became his most ardent supporters.
"I just wanted to make sure anyone coming in would be aware of where the community environment regarding police relationships is," said Bronica Martindale, President of California Gardens Neighborhood Cluster Association. "He has proven to be concerned about the community. He is proven it by the programs he has put forth including the community academy, his community affairs department and his advisory committees each representing the diverse community we live in," she said.
Even the San Bernardino Police Association respects Kilmer. In a published report Rich Lawhead, SBPA President said that Kilmer helped improve communication within the department and also changed the perception in the community. He also seemed to acknowledge the difficulties of city hall.
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