Breaking Barriers: Richmond’s new top cop the only Black female police chief in California

The city of Richmond is breaking barriers. Bisa French is becoming the first female police chief in the 110-year history of the Richmond Police Department. French spoke to KTVU for her first sit-down interview since her promotion was announced.

French is the only Black female chief in California in charge of a municipality. She was promoted on her 45th birthday. She is the youngest police chief ever in Richmond. She has spent half her life, her entire 22-year career, with Richmond Police.

“Back in 2013, if you were going to ask me if I was going to be the chief I probably would have said no but I was just focused on being a captain back then,” said Bisa French, Richmond’s new police chief.

Seven years ago, French hit a major milestone as Richmond’s first female Black police captain. Inside Richmond PD, among the pictures of past police chiefs, no one looks like her but that will soon change.

‘I do think it's important for young girls to see people like me in these positions because I want them to see themselves,” said French. “I never saw myself and that’s why I never thought of myself as the chief.”

Born in San Francisco to an African American father and Puerto Rican mother, French joined Richmond Police in 1998 out of necessity as a 22-year-old single mother. She rose through the ranks.

French knows her appointment comes at a pivotal time after the death of George Floyd and the "Black Lives Matter” marches. She sees being both "black and blue" as critical.

“I kind of understand both realms of what the community is experiencing,” said French. “I know what law enforcement as a profession is experiencing.”

Amid calls to defund the police, funds in Richmond were already being moved to fix the city’s budget deficit. The police department is facing a staffing shortage.

“We are at the bare minimum in terms of what we can do with our staffing, sworn police officers,” said French.

Another challenge has been boosting morale within the force after her predecessor resigned following a vote of no confidence from the police union. She believes in her 10 months as interim chief, morale has improved.

“I don't think we've come to a destination,” said French. “I think this is a journey we have to continue on. It’s all predicated on building trust.”

Teaching cultural competency and continuing to bring the crime rate down are among her priorities. She hopes her legacy will be to leave the department better than she found it and to make her mark.

“Our voice is missing at the table and has been missing for a long time,” said French. “Now I can make my mark by making my voice heard. When I make my voice heard, I make the voice of the community heard.”

French is married with three children. Her husband is an Oakland police sergeant. Her first official day is on August 1.