Some fear wave of partisan bickering will undermine search efforts
By Chris Levister –
When San Bernardino Police Chief Keith Kilmer announced his surprise retirement in March there were tears and expressions of sadness from an unlikely customer – the African American community.
“Two years ago the then new chief proclaimed “We’re in this together”, a lot of people in the community that I represent were angry with the police department,” recalls 6th Ward City Councilman Rikke Van Johnson.
“I introduced him at a Town Hall meeting and he shared that he would work to improve relations between the community and the PD. He started the Community Police Academy. He created a Black advisory committee and a Latino advisory committee. He instituted Police Liaison positions to interact with the residents of the city. All of those moves created a strong partnership between the Police Department and the residents that they serve. It’s very important that the incoming Chief, not only maintain those programs, but build on them as well,” said Johnson.
“Of course we were skeptics. After all, there is a perception that unfair and unethical actions, by law enforcement are widespread and systemic,” says The Rev. Bronica Martindale, a longtime community leader and president of the California Gardens Neighborhood Cluster Association.
“From the start, Chief Kilmer engaged the department, established an open door policy from the top down, involved citizen watch groups, schools, parks and recreation, and welcomed various community cluster organizations. He brought the community together. He took community policing to a new level. We don’t want to lose that momentum.”
As the search for Kilmer’s replacement enters its final phase, Martindale, and a growing chorus of leaders from the city’s African American community are urging Mayor Pat Morris and members of the City Council to focus on finding a qualified professional who will not only serve all of the city’s residents but will commit to preserve the historic strides in minority community policing.
“Crime is down. Change is in the air,” said Camille Thomas, a local resident and nurse. “The only question is that since civility in all areas of government is deteriorating so quickly, are we willing to change quickly enough.”
“I think City Hall gets it,” insists Carl Dameron, businessman and president of the Inland Empire African American Chamber of Commerce.
“I am overwhelmingly confident that Mayor Morris, the city’s first African American city manager, Charles McNeely and our City Council will select a new chief who will preserve and perpetuate the advancements made under Chief Kilmer,” said Dameron.
“They understand that we cannot afford to go back to the days when many members of our city viewed law enforcement officers with suspicion and contempt instead of trust and respect. We have to keep moving this city forward.”
Santa Barbara Police Chief Cam Sanchez and Arizona Police Cmdr. Rob Handy have emerged as the two finalists to lead San Bernardino’s department and its 300 sworn officers.
While Sanchez and Handy have been lauded by their respective cities’ leaders, the back and forth war of words between Mayor Morris and 7th Ward City Councilwoman Wendy McCammack over their backgrounds and the city’s hiring policy threatens to undermine the hiring process.
It is widely believed that the air of acrimony, heated debate and accusation among city leaders helped drive Kilmer into retirement. The latest barrage of political sparks annoyed residents cooling off on the banks of Seccombe Lake Park, Saturday.
“It’s just plain disgusting,” lamented an elderly man casting his fishing line into the murky water. A young couple pushing a stroller labeled the sparks surrounding the search a “symphony of bickering”.
A random sampling of residents in and around government offices Friday viewed the war of words in strikingly negative terms calling the incivility in City Hall “outrageous”. Others like this man who emerged from the nearby County Government Center said “something is terribly wrong with our government when it gets this crazy.”
The fear of returning to 1995when San Bernardino earned the nickname ‘Murder Capital’ runs deep in this low-income black and brown community near Anne Sherrils Park. “Once upon a time these streets ran with the blood of our children,” recalled old timer Sam Jenkins. “No one was really sure whether law enforcement was the savior or the enemy.” “We need leaders that want to move us forward not backward,” he said shrugging his shoulders.
“We need a police chief who is prepared weed out the rotten apples or so-called ‘Rambos’. There is a new generation of African Americans and Latinos who are not going to kowtow to these officers who violate their rights and treat them like animals,” Jenkins said.
A young teen named Hunter says the new chief will have big shoes to fill.
“Yea, most of us don’t have a lot of respect for the police, but when the chief and his men came over here in the hood to talk to us about police work and staying out of gangs and stuff, they seemed like plain old regular people.”
“We’ve got a long way to go before wounds of the past are healed,” said Rev. Martindale. “Still, I think the mayor and the council will do everything they can to give us a police chief who has good leadership skills, reverence for others, and is committed to foster open communication and strengthen relationships. Said and done, we are in this together.”
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