Welcome Contact Me Legislation Media Coverage Platform Voting Record E-Forum Biography
Media Coverage
Ex-Police Chief Left Richmond Wanting
March 21, 1999



Sunday, March 21, 1999
Section: West County
Page: A31
Sonia Giordani
Caption: Photo. Bill Lansdowne, profile.

RICHMOND The second round in the search for Richmond's new police chief kicks off Monday, with advertisements for the position again circulating on bulletin boards and in magazines across the country.

City Manager Isiah Turner's decision earlier this month to scrap the first search, reject all five finalists and start over wasn't his most popular move. It delayed the filling of a key post and sparked new flames among old factions within the force as they postured to influence Turner's choice.

Popular or not, Turner has made it clear he will hold out for someone who equal to the high caliber legacy left by former Chief Bill Lansdowne: an unprecedented commitment to outreach, the lowest crime rate in decades and mended relations within the department among special interest groups and factions.

Now Turner's extended search is raising new tensions among city and community leaders concerned that Lansdowne's achievements will slip away in less capable hands.

"The important things Lansdowne had that we will need again are a commitment to community policing, a strong personality and strong police backing to hold that department together so it doesn't fall back into the factionalism of before," said Mayor Rosemary Corbin.

Lansdowne, who left as assistant chief in San Jose in 1994 to come to Richmond, was the first chief hired from outside. He walked into a department still struggling to shake a roughhouse image, exposed over national airwaves when "60 Minutes" aired a story of police brutality and racism on the Richmond force.

"Some of that continued to persist even after all the exposure," said Councilman Nat Bates. "With Lansdowne coming in a new chief with no ties inside people recognized that every officer would be held accountable under his new regime."

Lansdowne brought a vision to overhaul poor police relations with the community. He put his faith in community policing and started with his own seven-days-a-week commitment to the job. He made a point of occasionally patrolling city streets beside beat officers.

But he also was a savvy politician who sold to the community the kind of confidence in police that had been missing for years.

"When Lansdowne first got here we rarely saw him in the station. He was out in the community meeting people," said Interim Police Chief Ed Duncan. "He did it like nobody did, and he did it fast."

Even inside the Hall of Justice, Lansdowne became the most approachable and widely respected leader in memory. He whistled show tunes as he walked between offices, sent handwritten birthday cards to everyone who worked for him and kept his office door open to officers. His attitude and style became legendary.

Lansdowne immediately embraced community policing, and under him it blossomed. He pulled officers off desk jobs and put them back on patrol. He assigned some to the schools and youth programs to work with the city's kids, especially after identifying that much of the city's crime was tied to residents younger than 21.

When the crime rate dropped during his tenure, he credited community policing and a host of new programs though crime was dropping across the country. Even community policing, which started under former Chief Ernest Clemens and encountered resistance from the outset, was sold by Lansdowne to residents and officers.

"Public relations is a big part of nearly every job, including a police chief's," said Councilman Tom Butt, who noted part of Lansdowne's success stemmed from his personality.

In his own words, Lansdowne speaks of his legacy in Richmond in simple terms: he hopes he left a police department with greater compassion and understanding of diverse cultures and needs.

"I would hope that I left a legacy of working in the community and making the police more approachable," said Lansdowne, now the San Jose chief.

He made a point of attending community functions and meetings and chaired community advisory committees, working closely with the blacks, Asians and Latinos to solicit residents' feedback.

"What he left us was this willingness of a chief to listen to the community. Officers were trained to be more proactive than reactive," said Doris Brown, a police commissioner and member of two of the community committees chaired by Lansdowne.

Within the department, he pulled talented minority officers up the ranks, earning the support of the Guardians of Justice, an internal organization representing the department's minority officers. Councilman John Marquez noted that it was Lansdowne who assigned the first bilingual detectives to homicide investigations, allowing police to better communicate with witnesses, neighbors and the family of victims and suspects.

But internal tensions remain less among races than generations, said Turner. It's a divide between old-school cops and younger officers weaned on the community-oriented philosophy.

His recent mention that he would be willing to consider Interim Chief Duncan as a candidate for the permanent spot also stirred controversy within the department, with some factions holding up Duncan as a remnant of the old school.

Duncan, who said he was still undecided about whether he will apply, said he like many of his colleagues was swayed by Lansdowne's policing philosophy. In the last six months, he says, he has worked to guide the department in the direction steered by Lansdowne.

Turner said he has begun to feel the pressure from the different cliques within the department.

"We're seeing this now because we have an interim situation, and the different groups see it as an opportunity to act up," he said.