VALLEJO, Calif. (KTVU) - Vallejo has launched its search for a new police chief, soliciting input from the public in a series of forums.
"This community is a tough community, it has a spirit of redemption, a real backbone," said resident Mike Pendergast, speaking at the first event Thursday evening at the main library.
Almost 100 residents gathered in small groups, discussing what they like about their city.
"We're the most diverse city in the nation," was overheard at one table. They also shared their discontent.
"Citizens are getting vocal because they've had enough," said another participant.
A consultant led the exercise, explaining he would use community values to create a recruitment profile for the next chief.
Chief Andrew Bidou is retiring after five years, to start drawing a $19,000 monthly pension.
"It's my fear the next one might be handpicked like we've seen before," said one resident, as the microphone was passed around the room.
"We want total transparency, total openness as we make this choice," Mayor Bob Sampayan told KTVU, "because anything else will be called a whitewash."
The mayor says he wants a chief who is community minded, as rifts widen between the department and communities of color.
Since 2011, Vallejo has had 16 deaths involving police, almost as many as San Francisco, which has seven times the population.
Recent fatal shootings of young African-American men, and incidents of questionable force, have resulted in protests and the involvement of the U.S. Department of Justice.
"There's a fear factor as to what is going to happen," said one speaker, noting the tension and distrust in the community.
Many residents at the forum want a chief who is a reformer.
The mayor doesn't disagree.
"In a chief we need someone who is open and aggressively listening to what our community has to say," said Sampayan.
Asked if that quality has previously been lacking?
"I won't say its been lacking but we need more during this critical time," answered Sampayan.
On the sidelines, listening and taking notes, sat Howard Jordan, a former chief in the Oakland Police Department.
Jordan has been hired as a temporary special adviser to Vallejo's city manager, to advise on a selection.
"I don't know what kind of training the department has received, whether they've received de-escalation training," Jordan told KTVU, "but these issues are not unique to Vallejo."
Jordan said he is still learning about the department and keeping an open mind.
"From what I've heard here, definitely the community has a concern about how they're being treated by the police," he acknowledged.
Also seated at one of the discussion tables: an attorney representing families of loved ones killed by police.
"The chief has to value the preservation of human life," Melissa Nold told KTVU, "and the impacted families want to stop the death and the violence, and any chief on board with that, we're on board with."
A new chief is expected to be in place in 4-5 months, and the process is happening concurrent with a DOJ assessment of the department's community relations.
"Shouldn't we wait and find out what the problems are so we hire the right person and don't blindside them later?" wondered one speaker.
Resident Mike Pendergast drew widespread applause when he called for more police accountability.
"Without accountability, things go terribly bad," said Pendergast, "and we have a chance now for young officers to learn from past mistakes rather than repeat in a broken system."
More public forums are planned, and the final choice for police chief rests with the city manager, in consultation with the city council.