From film to the force: Andrew Greenwood is Berkeley’s newest police chief

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Ethan Epstein/Senior Staff

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Andrew Greenwood once dreamed of creating films just like his favorite movie, “Seven Samurai.” Instead, he found himself in a position he had never anticipated: Berkeley’s chief of police.

At its April 4 meeting, Berkeley City Council appointed Greenwood as Berkeley Police Department’s permanent police chief. Greenwood’s new position was effective as of Sunday, and he intends on establishing long-term goals that build off the work he’s done during his six months as acting chief.

City Manager Dee Williams-Ridley originally designated Greenwood as acting chief when former chief Michael Meehan unexpectedly resigned in September amid public and internal criticism.

Unlike Meehan, who was part of the Seattle Police Department before he joined BPD in 2009, Greenwood has been part of BPD ever since he became a trainee more than 30 years ago in January 1986. He has worked in a variety of positions, including patrol, narcotics, investigations and communications.

As acting chief, Greenwood has carried out a plan based on five priorities over the past six months: crime, community engagement, employee wellness, professionalism and technology. He aims to continue this work to establish trust with the community, which has been especially shaky since the December 2014 Black Lives Matter movement.

“The fundamental piece of our work is trust,” Greenwood said. “Police are not the military. Their role is to prevent crime and disorder. … The public has to support what they are doing.”

Berkeley-born

Greenwood was born and raised in Berkeley, where he attended Jefferson Elementary School, Martin Luther King Jr. Middle School and Berkeley High School. He participated in the BHS theater program and 1978 and 1980 concert chorale. He was an avid photographer and weekly moviegoer.

During his years with the chorale, Greenwood traveled throughout Europe and sang in various cathedrals. These experiences inspired him to study abroad for a year in Sweden, where he learned statistics and neuropsychology — all in Swedish.

Before he left for his year abroad, Greenwood worked at the Grand Lake Theatre in Oakland, believing he would become a film major.

“Movies … have been a big part of my life for almost as much as I can remember,” Greenwood said. “Movies are a particular kind of way of being told a story and having a sense of empathy and understanding (for those) who aren’t like you in situations you are not in.”

As a college student, Greenwood struggled to rent costly equipment and shoot movies, so he decided to pursue his second interest — being a Berkeley police officer. He had joined the Berkeley Junior Traffic Police in the fourth grade and loved school visits from police sergeants. But he never considered a career as a police officer until his first ride-along in 1980.

“I did a number of ride-alongs,” Greenwood said. “I was just attracted to the idea of helping people and to the excitement … by catching folks who were being predators or committing crimes.”

He earned his bachelor’s degree in social science with an emphasis in criminal justice from San Francisco State University. Greenwood officially became an independent officer in July 1987 after going through the police academy and field-training program.

Department goals

As permanent police chief, Greenwood intends to use his previous police experiences to establish long-term plans that aim to increase transparency with the public.

Some of his ideas include producing baseball-like police trading cards for kids, holding discussions with UC Berkeley students and UCPD and hosting “Coffee With a Cop” gatherings. Greenwood also wants to run several community forums, during which anyone can ask questions and comment on the department’s strengths and weaknesses — similar to a neighborhood watch.

In addition to improving community engagement, Greenwood’s top priority is increasing the size of the police department, although some community members have expressed concern that this expansion could militarize the department.

“Continuing to hire trained officers is the key to our success,” Greenwood said. “It’s our responsibility, trying to fill (positions), getting people hired and trained. Then we can look to the future.”

According to Greenwood, hiring more officers is not a budgetary issue, but the challenge is finding enough qualified applicants. He speculated that fewer people are interested in becoming police officers because of both the difficult recruitment process and society’s negative perception of the police, which would make officers feel scrutinized and criticized.

Support and criticism

City Councilmember Kriss Worthington said that because Greenwood has lived in Berkeley his whole life, he understands the city’s values. Worthington added that Greenwood is well-respected among police officers.

“It’s very hard for someone from the outside to come into Berkeley,” said Councilmember Susan Wengraf. “We are a very unique city.”

Police Review Commission Commissioners Alison Bernstein and George Perezvelez both said they believe Greenwood will engage the community and improve the department. Bernstein said that after the December 2014 Black Lives Matter demonstrations, Greenwood walked into a community meeting and said, “We made a mistake. We’re sorry.”

Some community members, however, said they believe the process for Greenwood’s appointment was unfair because of the lack of community input.

“I understand that the city manager didn’t want a national search … (but) when they were looking for a chief, was there any public (involvement)? Did the Police Review Commission have any say?” said PRC Commissioner and founding Copwatch member Andrea Prichett.

Prichett suggested that the process should involve a public evaluation of several candidates before the final selection of the chief, which would be based on who is most capable. Stephanie Maurer, a Copwatch volunteer, also said she wished that the hiring process had been more democratic with an open application.

Greenwood said he is willing to discuss any concerns community members have and work to create a relationship with the community based on communication and accountability.

“I have the opportunity to support all the great work the police department has done and keep carrying it forward,” Greenwood said. “There is a term called ‘plusing’ — making something better than it was. I’ve heard it out of Pixar and Disney. … (You) take the great work and everyone is open to (the) idea of making it better — ‘plusing’ it.”

Gibson Chu is the lead crime and courts reporter. Contact him at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter at @thegibsonchu.