Fresno should have a new police chief. City’s inability to find one raises concerns

Andy Hall hugs outgoing Fresno Chief of Police Jerry Dyer after a news conference after Hall was introduced as the Acting Fresno Chief of Police on Friday morning, Aug. 23, 2019.
Andy Hall hugs outgoing Fresno Chief of Police Jerry Dyer after a news conference after Hall was introduced as the Acting Fresno Chief of Police on Friday morning, Aug. 23, 2019. jwalker@fresnobee.com

Fresno’s next police chief is someone who did not apply for the job.

If that sounds like an Alice in Wonderland reality, that’s simply how it was succinctly summed up by soon-to-be retiring Chief Jerry Dyer.

“The person best suited to be chief at this time is someone who did not apply,” is how Dyer put it.

The city is fortunate to be getting a capable replacement. City Manager Wilma Quan announced Friday that Deputy Chief Andy Hall, a 40-year veteran of the department, is acting chief immediately and will become full-fledged chief once Dyer steps down in October.

However, Hall himself will simply be a stop gap. He retires in the spring of 2021.

Hall was praised by Quan and Dyer as smart, experienced and fully committed to Fresno. “Andy Hall is very astute. He is very wise. He knows Fresno PD belongs to this community,” Dyer said. “He is a proven leader who is calm in the crisis.”

He takes on a big role: The Police Department has 1,000 employees, a general fund budget over $180 million and handles an average of 1,200 calls a day.

In choosing Hall, Quan and Mayor Lee Brand bought themselves some time to find the right person to be the next chief.

But the process to fill that important post is proving to be quite unsettling, and not what many residents expected.

About two dozen people applied for the job when the city began its search in earnest in April.

The city held community meetings in each part of town to get the views of citizens, and 1,200 of them posted ideas online of what they were looking for in the next chief.

The list was whittled down to the top five candidates, and some community leaders then were drafted to be on interviewing panels. The group of five became the final pool of four, and those applicants were interviewed on Aug. 16 by Brand, Quan, Dyer, Tim Orman, the mayor’s chief of staff, and City Hall employee Sandra Chavez Martin.

Quan praised the applicants as highly qualified, just not right for Fresno. She could not detail it further due to the confidential nature of the hiring process.

However, the city spent $30,000 with a recruitment firm to draw up the initial list of two dozen candidates. And it took from April to Friday to reach the conclusion that Fresno had not found its permanent replacement.

Because Hall will be temporary, he will not be imbued with the full authority to make major changes in department policy. Brand and Quan might disagree with that point — they will likely say Hall has their full confidence to do whatever he thinks is best — but logically he cannot move the department in a direction that a future chief might not embrace.

Then there is the mayoral election next March. The candidates? County prosecutor Andrew Janz — and Dyer. Brand could not say when the new search for a permanent chief will begin. But political reality suggests it won’t happen until after the election because the incoming mayor will want to have a say.

For months, Brand pledged that a new permanent chief would be hired by mid-September. Now he insists he and Quan will have a new chief hired before the end of 2020. He still expects it to be the defining legacy of his one term as mayor. At this moment, however, his legacy is Hall in the post until early 2021.

As to what kind of community input might be sought in the next search, Brand could not yet say. It is possible the city won’t conduct community meetings or gather comments online. That would be a mistake. The city must adhere to its transparency goal.

So uncertainty is the main result of Fresno’s search for a police chief, and that is not the best way to run the fifth-largest city in California. Fresno must conduct another ambitious search for a new chief, even though its leaders Friday professed their desire to find one from within the ranks. That only works if that person is the best candidate. Fresnans deserve nobody less.