UCPD chief of police search narrows down to four

Michael Drummond/File
Margo Bennett and three other candidates for the role of UCPD chief attended a press conference on Wednesday at Haas Pavilion. The candidates answered questions from students.

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Students will have a chance to meet and interview two finalists contending for the role of UCPD chief of police during a special forum Thursday after a similar meeting took place Wednesday for two of the other candidates.

The meetings, which will be held at the Haas Pavilion Club Room from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., will act as a way for students to speak with candidates for police chief, according to ASUC President Connor Landgraf. The candidates include interim UCPD Chief Margo Bennett as well as Rhonda Harris, Eric Heath and Nate Johnson, who all hail from police leadership backgrounds at other universities.

“It’s a really important time for students to come out and make their voices and opinion heard about this search so they can have the best police chief possible,” Landgraf said.

The campus has embarked on a nationwide search for former UCPD chief Mitch Celaya’s replacement and received 71 applications for the position, according to campus spokesperson Janet Gilmore. Celaya’s tenure as police chief was marked with noted controversy for the department’s handling of the fall 2011 Occupy protests.

For students like UC Berkeley junior James Chang, who was involved in Occupy Cal and is currently running for ASUC Senate, UCPD’s role in the November protests still remains a pivotal issue, and he hopes that the new chief will strive to prevent similar incidents.

“I would like to see this new chief of the UCPD pledge to make sure that the violence we saw from police officers in November 2011 does not occur again,” Chang said.

Landgraf said he believes that the new chief should work on improving student safety on campus as well as have an understanding of the relationships between the city and university.

All of the candidates have police backgrounds in university settings. Harris is chief of police at Old Dominion University, Heath is deputy chief of police at the University of Chicago and Johnson is chief law enforcement officer for the California State University system.

“(The police chief position) requires somebody who is willing to be a kind of community leader — a person who is willing to meet with student groups, faculty and staff,” Heath said.

The candidates also cite UC Berkeley’s reputation as a highly regarded university as one of the reasons they applied for the job.

“It only stands to reason that the University of California is one of the finest academic institutions in the world, and it truly deserves to have one of the finest police departments in the world,” Bennett said.

Gilmore added that the search will be an exhaustive process involving consultations with all segments of the Berkeley community.

“The criteria that (the search committee) were looking for included expertise in university policing, community policing, law enforcement leadership, relationship building and training and development,” Gilmore said. “They will meet with a broad group of folks including students, senior campus administrators, faculty leaders, community leaders, members of the UCPD and representatives from the BPD.”

The search committee will name its two final candidates toward the end of March, and these candidates will be interviewed by top UCPD leaders as well as Chancellor Robert Birgeneau and Ron Coley, associate vice chancellor of business and administrative services.

Andy Nguyen is the lead crime reporter. Contact him at [email protected]
and follow him on Twitter @Andy_Truc.