City Manager Bruce Rudd on Friday expressed total confidence in Fresno’s police chief, saying it was impossible for Jerry Dyer to have known about a beloved deputy chief allegedly gone bad.
Dyer at the same time said his boss’s analysis of events was spot-on.
But perhaps most notable of all were the words (or their absence) of the boss of Dyer’s boss — Mayor Ashley Swearengin.
Swearengin and Rudd joined Dyer at City Hall for a news conference dealing with all things Keith Foster.
Foster, 51, was among six people arrested Thursday on federal drug charges. Foster faces charges of conspiracy to distribute and/or possess with the intent to distribute oxycodone, heroin and marijuana. He pleaded not guilty on Friday and was cleared to be released from custody as he awaits trial.
Such serious charges against Fresno’s No. 2 cop (the department has four deputy chiefs) stunned city officials. Swearengin and Rudd were cautious in their responses on Thursday, admitting dismay at the unexpected news while begging for time to ponder any institutional threats.
They had the script down pat on Friday.
Swearengin, who has been on the job for more than six years, began with what might seem an unnecessary review of her duty as mayor.
“My chief role in the city of Fresno is to ensure that at all times the public’s interests are represented in every facet of every city department and in every aspect of municipal operations, including most importantly the Fresno police department,” Swearengin said. “I take that responsibility very seriously, as do the city manager and the police chief.”
Swearengin met Friday with the same FBI that played a pivotal role in the Foster investigation. Swearengin said she asked two questions: Any other Fresno police officers under suspicion? Anything the city could have done to get Foster first?
Swearengin said the FBI thinks “this is an isolated incident and does not involve other individuals or representatives of the Fresno police department.”
As to how the city could be so thoroughly blindsided by Foster’s arrest, Swearengin said the FBI told her “the police department could not have known about these activities.”
Swearengin reminded everyone of what she had just said, that “based on what is known today this is an isolated incident and one that could not have been foreseen.”
Then Swearengin repeated the essence of her opening remarks.
“Having said that, I want to again reiterate how seriously we take the obligation at all times to protect the public’s best interests,” Swearengin said. “That commitment is at the core of everything we do in our administration and it will continue to be.”
Swearengin then introduced Dyer and stepped two feet from the microphone. She didn’t take center stage for the rest of the 35-minute event.
Dyer, too, spoke of duty.
“Anytime you have a criminal investigation or an arrest of a high-ranking official in a police department, in this case the rank of deputy chief, it has the potential to erode the trust of the citizens of that community in its police department, and rightfully so,” Dyer said. “It also has the potential to bring negative light on the entire law enforcement profession. I know in this incident, as a result of this investigation and the arrest of Deputy Chief Keith Foster, it has done both of those.
“I would like to stand here before you and express my heartfelt apologies to the citizens of Fresno and to the law enforcement profession for the erosion of that trust that has occurred as well as the negative light that the incident has brought onto the law enforcement profession.”
Dyer spoke at some length. He concluded his initial remarks with thoughts on the colleague whose desk was just a few feet from the chief’s office.
“I wish my best for Keith Foster and the Foster family,” Dyer said. “We’ll be praying for them.”
Then Rudd stepped forward. In City Hall’s chain of command, Dyer reports to Rudd and Rudd reports to Swearengin.
Rudd said the FBI assured top Fresno officials that the city manager’s office as well as the police department could never have foreseen the Foster mess. Rudd said he has asked police auditor Rick Rasmussen to review police department policies.
Rasmussen will have company. The police department’s internal affairs unit is doing its own investigation.
Rudd said crime in Fresno is down substantially on Dyer’s watch, as are citizen complaints against the department. He said Dyer has done this with a dramatically smaller roster of sworn officers and fewer resources (blame the Great Recession).
Rudd concluded his opening remarks with Dyer in mind.
“One of the things that happens with the city manager is the police chief constantly keeps you advised of what’s going on in the community,” Rudd said. “Those things would keep most people up at night. I know it keeps him up at night. But fortunately for us, we have a chief and a police department who make sure that most of us can sleep at night knowing that we’re safe.
“So, again, when I’m asked whether or not this incident has shaken my confidence in Chief Dyer, let me reiterate, the answer is no. I believe we are blessed to have Chief Dyer as our chief, as well as the other men and women of the Fresno Police Department.”
The question-and-answer period had its stresses.
Dyer said he wants the internal affairs investigation done in two weeks.
Rudd said it was inappropriate for the media to dig too deeply into the history of the police department’s management structure and personnel.
Dyer said it was unfair for anyone to suggest the Foster situation is reflective in any way of the officers “risking their lives every single day for the citizens of Fresno.”
Dyer ended on a philosophical note. He didn’t name names. He probably figured he didn’t need to.
“Nothing can replace character.”