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September 7, 2019

Richmond chief on leave after no-confidence vote, acting replacement appointed

Alejandro Serrano and Matthias Gafni Sep. 6, 2019 Updated: Sep. 6, 2019 10:21 p.m.
SF Chronicle - Richmond chief on leave after no-confidence vote, acting replacement appointed
Richmond Police Chief Allwyn Brown holds a news conference with other leaders of a multi-agency task force in Richmond, Calif. on Wednesday, Aug. 30, 2017 to announce the arrest of several members of the Swerve Team street gang suspected in a number of violent crimes. Photo: Paul Chinn, The Chronicle

A day after the Richmond police union announced it overwhelmingly voted no confidence in its leader, the city manager told rank-and-file officers Friday the chief was “out of the office” and the second in command was appointed acting chief.

The union’s vote came nearly a year after a consulting group found low morale and a toxic work environment. Union members are calling on city officials to fire Chief Allwyn Brown or ask him to resign.

“I appreciate your ongoing commitment to the community we serve,” interim City Manager Steven Falk said in an e-mail sent to officers Friday announcing the appointment of Assistant Chief Bisa French as acting chief. “Thank you in advance for providing Acting Chief French with your full support and cooperation.”

A police spokesman said Brown was away but not on administrative leave, adding he could not confirm or deny if the chief had been fired or placed on leave.

French said late Friday by phone that she is acting chief for the “foreseeable future.”

She said Brown was on leave, but not administrative leave. She said she was not comfortable detailing his departure any further.
When asked if the development had anything to do with the union’s no-confidence vote the day before, French said she “didn’t know.”

Members of the Richmond Police Officers Association voted 117-19 this past week to declare no confidence in Brown, said union President Benjamin Therriault. Three members of the union abstained.

“The RPOA will be actively and diligently involved in working with Acting Chief French and the command staff during this time,” Therriault said late Friday in a statement. “We will do everything in our power to advocate for our members and the Richmond community to positively affect this organization.”

The internal assessment, which was done by a Boston consulting group and released in 2018, “eviscerated the internal leadership and direction of the department,” but the department’s culture has not changed since, Therriault said in an earlier statement announcing the vote.

“The current rudderless ship at the police department requires change at the helm,” Therriault said in the statement. “Leadership, and it’s (sic) lack thereof, always starts at the top.”

When asked what union members meant by asking city officials to take action, he said: “We are hoping that they will fire the police chief or ask for his resignation.”

Brown did not immediately respond to an e-mail seeking comment.

Four officers have left Richmond police this year and eight officers plan to leave the department by the end of the a year, many of them citing Brown’s lack of vision and leadership, Therriault said.

“If we continue to lose people, it’s going to be harder and harder for us to provide the services the community asks for,” Therriault told The Chronicle. “With this many departures, it’s a matter of public concern.”

Former City Manager Bill Lindsay commissioned the leadership review from MBD Innovations. The consultants interviewed 20 people and surveyed 67 members of the Police Department.

Among the findings, the consultants found there was no vision for the department and that “the relationship between the Richmond Police Officers Association (RPOA) and RPD administration is unnecessarily acrimonious.”

Therriault said union officials plan to discuss several issues with the City Council on Tuesday night and to ask for an internal investigation of the department, the details of which will be outlined at the meeting.

“If we can’t bring people here and if we are losing people, it’s a real problem,” he said.

Alejandro Serrano and Matthias Gafni are San Francisco Chronicle staff writers. Email: Twitter: @serrano_alej@mgafni