Antioch City Council questions police chief during annual department update

Source: Antioch Police Department

All police officers not given performance evaluation since 2017; Thorpe takes swipe at two officers, former Mayor Wright; Wilson apologizes for trusting past police chiefs

By Allen D. Payton

During their meeting on Tuesday, April 11, 2023, the Antioch City Council received the 2022 Annual Police Department Update from Chief Steve Ford. He informed the council and public that there are 99 filled sworn officer positions on the force out of a total of 115 authorized by the council, 61 on full-duty status, 38 assigned to patrol and seven in the academy.

“We’re going to be OK. We’re going to do the work and keep the city safe,” Ford stated.

The Chief also reported that the new Shot Spotter system has been installed as of March 15th “for mitigating gun violence”.

“We’ve had 84 since installation, that’s four per day,” he shared. “That shows you how much gun play we have in this city.”

“The first part of the puzzle is that we have good relationships with the people we serve,” Ford said.

“The police alone can’t keep this community safe,” he continued. “Without community support, without the community serving as most valuable resource.”

“Since my tenure as of April 23, 2022 we’ve been very intentional in changing” several areas, he explained.

He spoke of putting all officers through a Blue Courage course. “It’s going to be a top-down approach to enhancing our officers’ capacity. We have to have the right mindset and heart set to do this work.”

“We’ve revitalized our PAL program,” Ford continued.

He concluded his report speaking of revitalizing the public information officer position and launched the public surveys partnering with Zen City.

Source: APD

Council Members Question Chief Ford

“I have to apologize for this community because me, in my naivete made me turn my head thinking this was going to get done. Here we are on police chief number four,” Wilson stated. “What I do want to see is a game plan going forward. I want to see a lot of what you addressed. Racial bias and misconduct. I want to see this follow up report every three-to-six months come before Council. So, I will be apprised. I know Chief Ford, you’ve come into a lot and you have a lot to get done. My expectations will be high. I haven’t heard a plan going forward so people don’t die unnecessarily.

“I also want to say to some people…some people came in with their pre-story in their head these three members on council don’t want the police department to do well. We want the department to do well. I stand up here, proudly, of the work I’ve done up here. Never again am I going to hear ‘she’s weak’ because I’m up here not screaming. My father taught me, ‘still waters run deep’. You don’t have to be the loudest person in this room.”

“I want a plan of action and how we’re dealing with these individuals who said these ungodly things,” she said to Chief Ford.

“We have 18 compliance measures (from the DOJ) to make sure we’re doing what we’re supposed to do,” Ford responded. “I will do everything I can to reframe this department. How things are done politically in this organization. The organization will tell you since I’ve been there, I’ve been very intentional in ensuring organizational change. It takes five to seven years.”

“If you guys would like I can give you the full departmental plan…three goals, 15 strategies,” he stated.

“This is something that has been here long before the four chiefs. This has been festering for years,” District 4 Councilwoman Monica Wilson stated.

“I’m here, now. I’ll own it and I’ll fix it,” Ford stated.

“Thank you, Chief Ford,” Torres-Walker said then pointed out several items in his update that she appreciated.

“You have…arrest statistics for 2022,” she said, requesting more details. “Not every felony offense is a violent crime.”

“Our top 10 calls for service have nothing do with violent crime,” she stated.

“I appreciate the phone policy,” Torres-Walker said. “It’s too late for those other officers.”

“I know you said it’s going to take several years to implement and that most of us won’t be here to see it,” she added.

Source: APD

Mayor Lamar Thorpe was last to ask the chief questions, wanting to know how the department handled patrol with the lack of staffing.

“We collapsed the Swing Watch. We recently went to a 12-hour shift. The overlap is an hour on each side,” Ford responded.

Thorpe asked about investigations of complaints.

“Investigations should be timely and contemporaneous to the situation. You have one year window from the time the department receives a complaint…according to government code,” Ford responded. “If it’s a case that requires discipline, you can’t impose discipline after that one year has passed.”

“It’s up to the organization and the investigator to be diligent knowing we have that one year,” the chief continued.

“We haven’t had any complaints that have gone over a year since you’ve been here,” Thorpe asked.

“Not that I’m aware,” Ford responded.

Violent crime was up by 9.5% in Antioch between 2021 and 2022. Part I crimes are those reported to the FBI each year.

Thorpe asked him who handles the investigations and Ford offered a list of officers, including Sgt. Lauren Bledsoe who is the vice president of the Antioch Police Officers Association.

Thorpe then asked about the police union and shared his concern that the organizations vice president was one of those who investigated his fellow officers.

Thorpe then asked about performance evaluations of officers saying, “Have we been evaluating our officers every year?”

“We’ve been trying to work with HR for a very long time…and to revamp the evaluations,” said Captain Trevor Schnitzius.

“When was the last time our officers were all evaluated?” Thorpe asked.

“If I had to make my best guess that would be 2017,” Schnitzius responded to groans from the audience.

“I’m glad to know this process is starting again,” Thorpe stated. “We need to make sure our officers are evaluated.”

“What steps are we taking on racial bias?” the mayor asked.

“That’s a cultural thing…and I’ve been working on that since I got here,” Ford responded.

“How are we collecting the data?” Thorpe asked about racial justice reporting.

“I don’t know. I can find out for you, sir,” Ford responded.

“You talked about transparency, I believe you,” Thorpe continued. “We really have to look at data.”

“We have a new policy around text messages,” the mayor said.

“Cell phones?” Ford asked.

“Yes, sir,” Thorpe responded. “You know, if we had Early Intervention Systems in place, we could have avoided a lot of this without terminations,” Thorpe stated. “I look forward to hearing more about that.”

“We can certainly give you an overview on that,” Ford said.

“We haven’t heard necessarily about these text messages…we’re talking about culture, here,” Thorpe stated. “We haven’t heard from command staff, and I know you’re limited in what you can say.”

City Attorney Thomas L. Smith the interrupted the two warning them, “I just want to make sure we’re not venturing into territory…and you giving your opinion on something currently under investigation.”

“I’ll ask the questions and you can decide whether you want to answer or not. I’ll leave it at that,” Thorpe then said. “We’ve got to manage up, too, that’s including the city council, too.”

“We had people protesting down Second Street about Michael Mellone and Steve Aiello,” the mayor said, referring to 2020 protests about two of the department’s sworn officers in leadership, and then took swipes at former Mayor Sean Wright who he defeated in 2020. “Our mayor ran from every chance to speak to the media. He hid out in his office from the protesters. At the end of the day, he was coordinating with the police union.”

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