Fresno’s leaders announced a new police chief Friday and defended a process they called intense and transparent, but protesters locked out of the building disagreed.
The search for a replacement for Police Chief Jerry Dyer led to a short-term solution, City Manager Wilma Quan said, with Deputy Chief Andy Hall set to hold the department’s top position up to 15 months while the city conducts another search for a long-term hire.
The search was whittled to five candidates out of about two dozen, Quan said. Hall did not apply for the job.
Dyer, who also is running for mayor, is being forced to retire from the police department due to a city policy. The same policy means Hall will retire by spring 2021.
“I understand that some people will be and are frustrated by this announcement, and I respect those feelings,” Quan said. “I ask that they keep in mind that this is probably the most important decision I will make as city manager. It is far too important a decision to rush into.”
Fresno hired a company to do a nationwide search, which included several months of community meetings. More than 1,200 people participated in that and submitted comments online, according to city staffers.
Critics of the search have said the process lacked transparency. The morning news conference was originally going to be held inside City Hall, which is open to the public. About an hour before the conference was set to start, it was moved to the Police Annex, which is secured and not accessible to the general public.
Mayor Lee Brand said the change of venue was not related to the protesters. The annex building was used to swear in Dyer so it held precedence, Brand said.
“Eighteen years ago, there was internal candidates only. There was no national search. There was no citizens panel, to my knowledge,” Brand said. “This one was the most comprehensive, most transparent in the city’s history in finding a chief of police.”
Brand said the panel of citizens signed a non-disclosure agreement and would be held to it to protect the identities of the applicants.
Was search transparent?
Outside, several community advocates held signs with slogans like “Police Accountability Now.” More than one of them said they believed the news conference was moved to keep out the public.
Efrain Botello said he had no opinion of Hall, but that he was frustrated by the process, which can only add to the distrust between the community and police. He is a program assistant for the youth advocacy leadership program with Fresno Barrios Unidos.
He watched a live stream of the news conference while standing outside the building.
“They’re trying to exclude us this whole time,” he said about the locked doors. “It really angered me that during the press conference they were saying it’s been a transparent process and all this, but it hasn’t. They’ve been excluding the people.”
District 3 Councilmember Miguel Arias released a statement after the news conference.
“Appointing a chief that didn’t apply for the position, nor was interviewed by the community panel, is a slap in the face to the public and City Council,” he said in the statement. “All of us were promised ‘the most transparent and community-driven process in the city’s history.’ Instead we have a repeat of the good old boy hiring process.”
Andrew Janz, a prosecutor who is the only visible candidate facing Dyer in the mayor’s race, also blasted the months-long process that ended without a chief who can’t head the department for multiple years.
“This search has been botched from day-one by the Lee Brand Administration,” Janz said in the statement. “This is why I’ve been calling for a fresh start so we can implement a more transparent hiring process. The new mayor, and by extension the people of Fresno, should pick the next police chief.”
Andy Hall’s credentials
Hall has been deputy chief since October 2016, and heads the support division, which oversees communications, information technology and crime scene investigations.
He was also a traffic supervisor during his Fresno career. He said he applied to be a police cadet at 18 and has been in Fresno for 40 years.
“I will certainly stumble along the path, as well as the men and women of this department,” Hall said. “But I will promise you that we will be held accountable for our actions.”
“Community trust is vital to this profession and is the cornerstone of law enforcement,” he continued.
The fifth-largest city in the state, Fresno has a police department of more than 1,100 employees that gets more than 3,000 calls for service a day, according to Dyer.
Hall spoke highly of Dyer but said he will not make any endorsements in the coming mayor’s race. Dyer has routinely made endorsements in Fresno elections.
“(Dyer) is a once-in-a-generation type person,” Hall said. “I can only hope to be half the leader he is.”
Three panels of nine members of the community and nine city employees interviewed five candidates Aug. 15, according to city staffers. Then four of them were interviewed by a smaller panel that included Quan, Brand and Dyer, as well as some other high-ranking city employees.
Dyer has said he’ll retire Oct. 15, when Hall will be officially promoted. In the meantime Hall is acting as the head of the department for its day-to-day workings.
Dyer said Hall has a “solid reputation” in the law enforcement community.
“Andy is someone I relied on heavily over the years,” Dyer said. “He knows how to get the most out of his people.”