Honor, integrity, ethics — those characteristics surfaced again and again Tuesday night in a Petaluma town hall meeting as part of recruiting a new police chief.
Petaluma residents told two recruiters from Bob Murray and Associates that they wanted those qualities and more from the person chosen to lead a department of 62 sworn officers and about 30 support staff.
Several of the approximately 30 in attendance complained about current police leadership and interim Chief Danny Fish, either directly or more subtly.
Some voiced support for Fish’s former second-in-command Lt. Dave Sears, who was demoted from a captain rank — equal to Fish — to lieutenant in a move that also slashed Sears’ salary by about $35,000 during budget cuts last year.
Sears was Fish’s only competition in 2009 to fill the temporary chief slot.
The demotion engendered widespread support for Sears and stirred up talk about a 2009 extramarital affair Fish acknowledged having with a police department employee he has since married.
Resident Michael Foulkes, who said he used to work in Juvenile Hall, said the new chief should bring “fresh air” and think more independently than current leadership. He said there is an increasing feeling of resentment against police now.
“Unless something is done, there is going to be a rejection of the way things are done now,” he said.
Petaluma should promote from inside the department, said Richard McIntosh.
“It helps build loyalty. It helps keep good people in your community,” he said. “I do think we have people from within, at least one, who is very well qualified.”
Byron “Barney” Fauss used an old adage to show his support for Fish.
“If it ain’t broke, don’t try to fix it,” he said. “We’ve had a very good interim chief. I don’t know what the confusion is.”
Other speakers said the new chief should talk to people, “not at them,” be respectful of all residents, particularly the homeless and young people, and truly be involved in the community, not just as a figurehead at public events.
One woman who identified herself only as Allison said the new chief must have that sense of community.
“I just highly recommend Dave Sears,” she said.
Fish, who took notes in the back of the room, said afterwards he understands that he “signed up to be the punching bag.” He said many of the speakers were residents he had previously “had to say no to” or who otherwise had bones to pick with police.
Dave Rose, who is in charge of student disciple and truancy at Petaluma City Schools, and Mike Johnson, the chief operating officer of the Committee on the Shelterless, said the new chief needs to maintain existing partnerships with community organizations like theirs.
Both said the new chief is likely to face challenges with the homeless and youth crime as funding cuts to local nonprofits reduce services.
The final hiring decision is City Manager John Brown’s, but he said he hired the recruiter and invited community input to neutralize the divisiveness that lingers around Fish and Sears. Four City Council members attended the meeting: Tiffany Renee, Teresa Barrett, Chris Albertson and Gabe Kearney.
Brown said he hopes to have a new chief this summer.