Who’s picking Fresno’s next police chief? The search lacks transparency, critics say

Transparency in the process to find a new Fresno police chief is vital, community organizers say.

But as the process winds down, advocates say the mayor’s administration is not living up to its duty to bring in enough diverse voices in a city looking for sweeping changes in its police force.

Mayor Lee Brand said this week the city is on schedule to hire the next chief in mid-September. Chief Jerry Dyer has said he’ll retire Oct. 16.

The city held five community meetings in April and May, and Brand said he’s preparing to gather a panel to conduct interviews on finalists. The panelists won’t be made public until after the new chief is named.

The public meetings were just the bare minimum required from the city and don’t represent real transparency, according to Ashley Rojas, the executive director of Fresno Barrios Unidos.

“I think a lot of people are upset about this because of how monumental this is and what this means for our community,” she said Wednesday. “Our current model of policing and the current leadership has really distorted the health and well-being of our community.”

“For the last 18 years we have not only been ignored but silenced,” she added.

Advocates said they would like to see the finalists engage in a public forum before the chief is hired. The mayor’s administration said that would raise confidentiality concerns related to personnel, and countered that the process has been transparent.

“We will be interviewing police chief candidates shortly,” Brand said in a statement. “They will be queried by a combination of trusted city employees and an equal number of community members who represent a broad cross-section from all walks of life in Fresno. That input will be very valuable and important to the city manager and me.”

The administration said in April that the panel interviews would be completed in July. The panel had yet to be finalized this week, according to Fresno city spokesman Mark Standriff, but he insisted the next chief would still be named in mid-September.

The city released survey responses and videos of the community meetings on its website, but included no explanation of how the comments will be used to pick a chief.

At a 2016 forum for mayoral candidates, Brand committed to involve Faith in the Valley in the process of finding the new police chief and to bring in community members for more input, advocates have said.

Community organizers say they are hopeful the mayor will allow them into the candidate interviews but so far the process has been discouraging, according to Andy Levine, the regional communications director for Faith in the Valley.

“But for now, all we can say in response to that question of whether the process has been transparent is what we’re hearing from the community: That there’s a sense the city already knows who they want to hire but are now just going through this process,” Levine said.

Faith in the Valley has pushed Advanced Peace, an alternative program to end gun violence in urban neighborhoods. Advocates have also asked for a number of other policy changes, including barring the future chief from making political endorsements.

“So, yes, we’re still hopeful for a transparent process that reflects the commitments communities want to see,” Levine said, “but there are a lot of questions that remain.”

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Reporter Thaddeus Miller has covered cities in the central San Joaquin Valley since 2010, writing about everything from breaking news to government and police accountability. A native of Fresno, he joined The Fresno Bee in 2019 after time in Merced and Los Banos.