By KENDRA SITTON | La Mesa Courier
La Mesa residents weighed in on what they want in a new police chief ahead of a nationwide search. In a community meeting held over Zoom on Monday, Dec. 12, dozens of commenters were able to explain what they hope the new leader of the La Mesa Police Department will bring to the position in terms of leadership style and characteristics.
Teri Black of Teri Black & Company, LLC opened the meeting by explaining how her recruiting firm had been hired by La Mesa to find its next chief of police. Teri Black & Co. Is a “very specialized” firm that is exclusively hired by California-based government entities like cities and counties to recruit executives such as city attorneys, police chiefs, fire chiefs and financial services directors. The firm has been open for 16 years, although Black has been in the business for longer.
Amid a slew of technical difficulties, Black apologized for the learning curve that conducting online town halls has created.
“We’re all getting used to this at the same time. I would so much rather be seeing you all in person – staff and especially the community. We love getting to know each one of the communities we represent and regrettably we’re having to do it this way but at least we have this virtual environment interact and so we’re grateful for that,” Black said.
Black explained that she did not yet know the process the firm will use to find the new chief of police since Chief Walt Vasquez retired on Aug. 27. Black said after developing parameters for what they are looking for in candidates based on a survey and speaking to stakeholders, she will work with city staff to decide what process they will use to recruit, interview and decide on a new chief of police. Many community members wanted to know more about the process but Black assured them she did not yet know herself. She did say they typically have job postings on their website as well as in trade magazines.
“Over the last two or three years my firm has handled a number of police executive and senior management recruitments in Southern California. We did the Pasadena, Ventura, and Tustin chief recruitments, a number of other police chief recruitments in the Bay Area… Each one of those communities and police departments is very, very different from each other and part of the interesting aspect of our job is we get to come in and learn about every community and every department that we represent. So that’s what they’re we’re in the process of doing,” Black said.
Initially, the dozens of callers had one minute to explain what they wanted in a new chief. While there was a range of answers, the vast majority pointed to wanting a leader who will stand against racism and help heal a fractured community. They pointed to violent incidents involving Black community members such as an officer body slamming a teenage girl, arresting Amaurie Johnson and injuring Leslie Furcron as something that must stop. Many also called for a leader who can change the culture of the department, increase community policing, stand up to the police union, add new training, work with the community review board amicably and be anti-racist. In addition, a major emphasis was that the police chief would make the department more transparent.
After everyone had a chance to speak, there was still plenty of time left in the two-hour meeting. Many came back to speak for a second, third and even fourth time. Many of the speakers have been flooding La Mesa community events such as these since May to call for reforms. This meeting was smaller than many other town halls and was largely filled with dedicated and familiar voices.
There were disagreements over whether it would be best to find someone in a lower rank who perhaps had experience outside of policing to lead because they would be less indoctrinated with the culture. Others felt having someone experienced would be helpful in earning them respect and they would not need to learn on the job. While many emphasized different virtues or experience levels they wanted in an executive, there was a large consensus that the new chief needed to tackle racial divisions head on.
Black did mention that the protests and riots this year have made it difficult to find people willing to take a public leadership role in many police departments. Still, she said her team is dedicated to finding someone who is a good fit for the community’s needs. While the process is still unknown, she expects to start looking for candidates in late December and early January.
— Reach contributing editor Kendra Sitton at email@example.com.