Antioch taps San Francisco veteran cop as interim police chief

Antioch has hired a new interim police chief as the city works to change the culture of the department and improve community relations.

Dr. Steven Ford is a 31-year veteran of the San Francisco Police Department where he most recently served as Commander of Community Engagement. He said his philosophy is rooted in procedural justice, policing based on trust and fairness with the community. Ford also serves as a professor at San Francisco State University and City College where he serves as an instructor of Public Administration and Criminal Justice Administration.

"The top priority is to make sure we have a solid police and community relationship," Ford said. "It's internal and external. The internal speaks to the relationships between police and the organization, giving the officers a sense of value. They push that out to the public and that's where the external part of procedural justice is solidified."

Ford's appointment is the latest in a number of police reforms under Antioch Mayor Lamar Thorpe. Thorpe has been on the job a little more than a year with a vision to turn Antioch PD into a national model for excellence. He said Antioch is no longer a small town on the Delta, but one of the Bay Area’s fastest growing cities and of the most racially diverse. Thorpe said he intentionally hired someone from the outside to start changing the culture of the department. The last three police chiefs were hired from within.

"I'm under no illusion that things change overnight," Thorpe said. "Our police reform measures have been ongoing. We started with a series of reform measures that focused on police accountability... body cameras, the oversight committee, dash cams… Police reform is about public safety. Police officers cannot solve crimes if the public is not engaged."

The reforms stem largely from the in-custody death of Angelo Quinto in December 2020 after officers responded to a report that Quinto was suffering from a mental health crisis. His death was ruled an accident, but led to a change in state law that restricts police from placing someone on their stomach and cuffing them behind their back.

Civil rights attorney John Burris said he's pleased the city hired an outsider who not wedded to the particular culture of the department. Burris represents the Quinto family and said they're still waiting to see if the Contra Costa District Attorney’s Office will file criminal charges against the officers. He said Ford has an outstanding reputation for community participation and noted that Ford implemented a number of recommendations in San Francisco’s Bayview District at the request of the U.S. Justice Department.

Thorpe said he plans to create a deputy police chief position that will focus on long term planning and address officer attrition among other things. Ford said he is focused on that too.

"When officers have a sense of value from management, leadership and the command staff in particular... they're more apt to stay and they're also more apt to give good accolades about the organization which makes it attractive to the external public," Ford said.