OCEANSIDE — When Police Chief Frank McCoy over the summer announced his plans to retire in October, the city immediately began its search for a replacement. Recently, the city has decided to put a hold on its search to first gather input from residents about what they want in a new police chief.
The City of Oceanside created a survey both in English and Spanish that asks residents questions about what they think are important qualities and priorities the next chief should have. The survey is available online and at various public counters throughout the city.
City Manager Deanna Lorson had recently indicated that the search would be limited to internal candidates, but some church pastors and residents want a nationwide search instead.
According to Pastor Kadri Webb of St. John Missionary Baptist Church and Rev. Jason Coker of the Oceanside Sanctuary, limiting the search to internal candidates would mean that only a few applicants could be considered.
This is problematic, they explain, during a time when current policing methods are being reexamined in an effort to eliminate racism and excessive use of force, as well as how to make the best use of police resources.
Lorson told The Coast News that when McCoy announced his retirement, she initially began looking at recent police chief recruitments in San Diego County and for professional guidance for hiring a new chief. She found that most cities in the region promoted chiefs internally and that usually the first step is to look internally for leadership potential.
Lorson noted that she saw experienced candidates within the department, none of whom are “content with the status quo, but recognize the need for the department to continue to evolve its policing practices and build strong community relationships.”
“It is my strong desire that we engage in a process of continuous improvement and it seemed that an internal search could result in a new Police Chief with the internal knowledge and established community connections to lead the department through a challenging process of self-examination and improvement,” Lorson said via email.
As Lorson started to work on an internal search, however, she realized community input was needed first to make sure her “observations are in alignment with the community.”
The survey will determine the city’s next steps in the chief recruitment process. Lorson explained that although none of the questions directly ask if the search should be internal or nationwide, the community’s survey answers will help her make that decision.
“I will be looking for a Chief that has demonstrated strong community relationship and a thorough understand of the City’s diversity and can build on OPD’s track record while also providing a fresh look to ensure that OPD is continually improving its practices and providing outstanding service to the community,” Lorson said.
According to Coker and Webb, the Oceanside Police Department struggles with mistrust among many residents.
Both St. John Missionary and the Oceanside Sanctuary partnered with the Kroc Institute for Peace and Justice at the University of San Diego in 2018 to determine the community’s trust for local police.
“Oceanside’s residents of color consistently reported that they, or someone they knew, had negative encounters with police,” Webb and Coker wrote in the letter.
After the survey was announced, St. John, Oceanside Sanctuary and St. Thomas More Catholic Church gathered over 200 constituent emails for Lorson and City Council with three demands:
- Open the position to external applicants.
- Create online public workshops for residents to share their concerns, values and priorities for a new chief.
- Make the identity of all persons advising Lorson known before the selection of a new chief.
According to Rob Howard, who is running for mayor in the upcoming election, the city needs to prioritize building the public’s trust in its police department.
“When it comes to policing and public trust, you want continuous improvement,” Howard said. “Do not be satisfied with being better than another police jurisdiction — we’ve got to always want to better.”
Howard wants to see improvement in the relationship between community members, the police department’s leadership and the police union.
“If you are in a position of leadership, you should work harder on those relationships that are not good than the relationships that are good,” Howard said.
Howard, like the pastors, would also like to see an external search for a new police chief because it presents an opportunity to hire someone that has already worked through similar challenges that OPD currently faces. He also wants the city to listen carefully to its community members, and for residents to make their concerns heard.