Community calls for transparency, leadership

The Aug. 23 decision by Fresno Mayor Lee Brand to appoint a temporary replacement for Police Chief Jerry Dyer rather than a permanent successor as promised during a 6-month, national search left more questions unanswered, especially among a Latino community that makes up 51 percent of the city’s population.

▪ Did Dyer, who is running for mayor, orchestrate the move so that he would select his full-time replacement should he prevail in the mayoral race?

▪ Was the Latino community, which largely preferred police captain Mark Salazar, slapped in the face? California’s fifth-largest city has never had a Latino serve as police chief.

▪ Why spend $30,000 on a search billed a transparent only to move the announcement of the appointment of deputy chief Andy Hall from a very public city hall to the Fresno police headquarters which are off limits to the public?

“This decision shows a clear disregard for the months-long community input process that so many members of our community contributed to,” said Fresno City Council vice president Miguel Arias in a statement.

“Appointing a chief that didn’t apply for the position, nor was interview by the community panel, is a slap in the face to the public and city council,” Arias said.

“All of us were promised ‘the most transparent and community driven process in the city’s history,’” said Arias of Brand. “Instead we have a repeat of the good old boy hiring process.”

Fresno Building Healthy Communities leader Sandra Celedón was blunt, calling Aug. 23 “a dark day for democracy in the City of Fresno.”

“Once again, the city has failed to listen to the voices of the many. Community members and young people were clear that they wanted a transparent and inclusive process to select our next police chief and called for a police chief who will commit to implementing a community policing philosophy, respect residents in every neighborhood and restore the department’s integrity,” Celedón said.

“Instead, residents got a sham process that leaves our Police Department without permanent leadership and left community residents out in the cold. The fix was in from the beginning.”

Youth held up signs – “Do better for our youth!” “We demand transparency,” and “No transparency. No trust,” “Community First” – outside the police department headquarters.

Celedón’s group, Fresno Boys and Men of Color and Faith in Fresno were among the organizations that participated in the city’s community forums.

The coalition called for new leadership that will implement a department-wide community policing philosophy to identify, deescalate and solve community issues with the intent of improving relationships between youth, community members and law enforcement, while creating a safe and healthy city.

“Mayor Brand and his inner circle picked the chief they wanted. Instead of seeking out new leadership, they decided to choose someone within a department that is over-resourced, receiving nearly 54 percent of the city’s general fund dollars, yet clearly under-managed,” Celedón said.

“Two-thirds of our officers are suffering historic lows of employee morale, as indicated by the 2018 Fresno Police Officers’ Association survey,” she added. “Fresnans, young people and officers on the street deserve better. Mayor Brand, once again, blew his opportunity to lead our city forward, leaving the rest of us to pick up the pieces.”

“The question is, who really made the decision to leave our police department in limbo? We call on the city to implement a true community process to find an appropriate police chief free from inner circle and political candidate influence – we cannot afford to wait any longer,” Celedón said.

Marina Magdalena – who represents various unions, including some with the city – shares the same concerns regarding the lack of transparency and the decision to not name a permanent police chief.

“I’m very disappointed they didn’t give it to” Salazar, said Magdalena. “I know him. I know his wife. He’s a man of great character, and honest family man involved in the community.”

Magdalena said Brand’s decision was something smaller cities would do, “but not the state’s fifth-largest city.”

In a statement, the Leadership Counsel for Justice and Accountability said: “The community and youth deserved a transparent process that resulted in the hiring of a chief who is committed to community policing and dedicated to building relationships with all residents, particularly people of color. We call on the city to listen to residents and conduct a real search for a police chief.”

Speculation is that Salazar will be moved into a deputy chief position and then be ready for the top job once Hall reaches retirement age in a couple of years.