San Bernardino needs a real leader

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By T. Elliott, former Sun Editorial Board member and current Chairman of the San Bernardino City Public Safety Commission

For nearing 2 years, The City of San Bernardino has operated without stable leadership at the top of the Police Department. Unfortunately, the former chief was ill and ultimately retired. This City owes a debt of gratitude to Interim Chief Eric McBride who has chosen to remain vigilant and keep our Police Department not only functioning, but steadily improving.

Chief McBride has documented overwhelming support of the community, the Public Safety Commission, the POA, Neighborhood Associations, business and ecumenical leaders and  residents, just to name a few. Mere casual conversations with the rank and file officers prove they not only respect Chief McBride but comment how the departmental structure has improved several times over, as a result of his steady hand and experience.

The San Bernardino Police Officers Association President, Brian Lewis said,“At times the POA has been consulted and asked to opine on the selection of a new Chief, we are normally discussing with the City Manager why we might disagree with a decision to hire a certain leader for the department, but this time, we fully support McBride without any hesitation. He has the trust & respect of the entire POA. We simply can’t understand why the City Manager refuses to promote him and allow this unease to continue in the Department, and we have asked her.”

A retired Captain who left the department after 25 years to go to another agency said, “The City Manager won’t make a decision on our Chief and I simply have to go where I’m assured of more stability for both me and my family. I’m not the only one who has had to make this painful decision, more are coming!”

As interim Chief, McBride’s aggressive implementation of the Council directed “Community Policing” policy is already producing phenomenal results. The creation of 5 policing districts. Business owners willing to donate buildings and space free. Developers taking a new look at our City. All support the direction of the Department of and are mere examples of the community’s trust in Chief McBride. In addition, most of the newly hired officers are local residents and thus have a connection to our community. Something we have been asking for and haven’t seen in a long time in San Bernardino PD.

Let’s face it, San Bernardino admittedly, has its share of issues, from City Hall, Council members ranting at each other (one in particular), A Mayor facing the head-winds of aggressively trying to promote the City through development and jobs while fighting legal claims, and now Coronavirus. Thankfully our Police Department is no longer, one of those issues.

In stark contrast, SBPD is constantly improving, growing again, filling positions and hiring both new officers and staff. Under McBride, the clearance rate (Identifying & Arrest) on homicides has gone from the low 40’s to nearly 80%!

Since McBride has been at the helm, new officers are joining the department again at a record rate and are on the streets at a pace unseen in San Bernardino in years. Are we going to now, revive an environment that allows other cities to simply whisk them away from us after so much effort has gone into their recruitment and training (at our expense)?

McBride’s aggressive recruitment policy has already yielded 42 new staff and has now filled all the vacancies of 254 sworn officers currently budgeted & approved with 7 more in the pipeline. Yet, the perception of instability in Department leadership is what appears to be creating this revolving door. Many of the experienced stable officers who stood with this city during its bankruptcy are leaving for opportunities with other departments, presumed more stable. I’m afraid the result will be, a Department taking on this City’s long-standing Police issues, with a much less experienced team. This is dangerous!

Not only is Chief McBride and his assistant; Dave Green regularly present at community events all over the City but appointed 2 capable leaders to advance this effort, Sgt. John Echeverria; the Department’s Latino Community Affairs Supervisor (San Bernardino Native), is highly visible throughout the community regularly connecting with residents and organizations. In addition, Sgt. Nelson Carrington, the Department’s African American Personnel & Training Supervisor (San Bernardino native) and his team are noticeably aggressively recruiting for San Bernardino PD all over the City which has produced the results we are now seeing in new officers.

Now with Coronavirus and both the City, State and Country in a “State of Emergency”, the one man we should look to for safety and leadership that would guide the Emergency Operation Center through a crisis, should be our Chief of Police but…oops, we don’t have one! The blame for any presumed lack of stability should not now go to the Police Department nor the Mayor & Council. At this point, it lies 100% at the desk of the City Manager, Terri Ledoux.

I like Terri personally, but must side with many residents, City elected leaders, the Police Department as a whole (for a change) and business community, in a complete Quandary? She replaced our Public Works Director in a mere matter of months. On the other hand, our Police Department which more than half of the city budget is allocated, hangs in limbo. This simply makes no sense! It seems that she and/or her assistant (not sure who is running the City), has unilaterally decided that street-signs are more crucial to this City than Police & Public Safety. Is it now a surprise that our City Council has initiated the recruitment process for a new City Manager?  Terri can fix this!

According to sources, the lag hinges on matters involving tenure & severance. It would seem to me that the City Manager (who is well paid) ought to be able to get in a room with McBride and fashion an appropriate agreement that respects McBride’s tenure with the City and at least offer him what every other Chief has been a recipient of. In the alternative, create an agreement that would permit him to simply be demoted, if he is unable to produce the results that the City both needs and desires.

To quote former President Obama”We cannot keep doing the same thing and hope for a different result”. We have imported Police Chief’s routinely only to have them take our money, allow us to pay to re-locate them here to California, only to bail on us when the next California City offers them a more lucrative package. I personally asked Chief  McBride if he were willing to give the City a contract of 5 or more years during which he could only leave or be removed “for cause?” his reply was an emphatic, “Absolutely”!

Chief McBride has given this city over 29 years of service and in-spite of this City’s past financial issues, not only stayed with this City to make things better, but is committed to, if given the formal authority, give the City a Department its proud of. I’m aware that some would prefer to import a Chief that is of another ethnicity. I personally think we should be looking at the person who is most qualified, over the color of his/her skin.

It’s time for our City Manager to hear the voice of the people and formally appoint Eric McBride as Chief of Police, so we can move on to other issues in our City! Join me in calling on our elected officials and phoning or E-mailing the Mayor, Council and City Manager demanding swift action.