SAN JOSE — After the last-minute dropout of two outside candidates for police chief in the nation’s 10th largest city, the search is being extended a second time with the aim of bolstering its crop of external finalists.
The only current outside finalist is a Bay Area chief who spent most of his police career in San Jose. As a result, a virtual forum for community members and leaders to ask questions of the finalists, set for Saturday, has been pushed back to Feb. 13.
The search officially launched in late November, three months after former Chief Eddie Garcia — now set to become chief in Dallas in February — announced his retirement. It had already been extended earlier this month, indicating the city was dissatisfied with its candidate pool, which is dominated by internal commanders and high-ranking supervisors.
Thursday, such speculation only intensified after City Manager David Sykes announced the new search extension.
“We committed to bringing together a diverse candidate pool and a candidate pool with a mixture of internal and external perspectives,” Sykes wrote. “Although we have a super strong internal candidate pool, we have fallen short on establishing an external perspective to be included in the community process.”
Heading into Monday, the city was prepared to announced seven finalists, four currently working at SJPD, and three from outside. But Monday morning, ex-Oakland police Chief Anne Kirkpatrick pulled out of consideration, according to multiple sources familiar with the search.
The city pressed on and quietly announced late Monday evening its finalist pool of six, headlined in part by Minneapolis chief Medaria Arradondo — spurring swift reactions given his department’s central role in George Floyd’s police killing last year. But less than 24 hours after the announcement, Arradondo, who indicated his only engagement with the process was sending a résumé to a recruiting firm that contacted him, withdrew from the running.
That left four internal candidates. Acting Chief David Tindall, Deputy Chief Anthony Mata, Deputy Chief Heather Randol, and Capt. Jason Ta. And the remaining outside candidate, Piedmont police Chief Jeremy Bowers, spent 17 years at SJPD, rising to lieutenant, before leaving in 2014 to join his current department.
Councilmember Raul Peralez, a former full-time and a current reserve officer with SJPD, was ambivalent Thursday about halting the process. He said his worry about relaunching the search is less about whether the city would receive new outside applications, and more about how it might leave the existing candidates, who applied at the outset, feeling slighted.
“I think we would still have interested applicants because like any other job, timing also plays a factor,” he said. “But I would be concerned that the message would be pretty clear to the current pool of candidates that we have right now, that we’re not satisfied, and I would expect them to have a reaction to that.”
In his memo, Sykes appeared to attempt to mollify that sentiment, writing that he has “extreme confidence in the leadership of our police department,” though according to department sources that gesture has been met with a tepid response from commanders, some of whom are irked at the notion their candidacies are not enough to push the process forward.
San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo said the extension of the search was necessary, calling the current candidate pool “not what anyone would consider a robust set of candidates.”
“No one believes that the only five qualified candidates for this position in the United States of America are all currently at or have worked for the San Jose Police Department,” he said. “If we choose an internal candidate, which we very well may do, I expect this new chief to know that they’ve gone through a process in which we chose the best and the brightest, and that can’t happen if we don’t have a sufficient number of external candidates.”
There are also tangible effects beyond the political realm. SJPD’s command structure has acting deputy chiefs in its investigative and administrative divisions, and Tindall, who was promoted to acting chief after Garcia’s second-in-command, Dave Knopf, retired this month, does not have an acting assistant chief at the moment. Besides the musical chairs in the highest levels of the police force, several department sources have said that has left projects at a standstill, awaiting the direction of whoever will be chief.
The San Jose Police Officers’ Association said it is also wary of the city lowering its requirements to expand the out-of-area candidate pool, given that candidates who meet standards such as five years of high command at a large city police department have had months to consider applying.
“This will be the second extension of this byzantine process and each day of delay stalls our ability to agree to and enact improvements to our operations, to vigorously address our ever increasing emergency response times and to reduce crime; it’s time to make a decision and stop kicking the can down the road,” union president Paul Kelly said in a statement.
San Jose’s own history going back nearly half a century also suggests that an external candidate has an uphill battle to climb. The city’s last truly outside chief was Joe McNamara who arrived from Kansas City in 1976. He was succeeded by career SJPD officer Lou Covarubbiaz, Richmond chief but longtime SJPD alum William Landsdowne, and Rob Davis, Chris Moore, Larry Esquivel and Garcia, all of whom spent their police careers in San Jose.
The search to replace Davis was the last time an outside candidate was a serious contender. At that time, then-Oakland police Chief Anthony Batts was a finalist with SJPD acting Chief Chris Moore, who got the job. A national search was ceased before Esquivel succeeded Moore, and was not even conducted before Garcia, long hailed as Esquivel’s successor, was chosen in 2016.
Virtual candidate forum for San Jose police chief finalists
The forum is now set to start Feb. 13 at 10 a.m. Information about the forum, and city surveys soliciting community input in English, Spanish and Vietnamese, can be found online at sanjoseca.gov/Home/Components/Calendar/Event/2964/