Amid a police texting scandal, the Berkeley City Council has voted to make interim Police Chief Jennifer Louis’ job permanent.

Jennifer Louis has been named permanent chief of the Berkeley Police Department. (Berkeley Police Department via Bay City News)

Louis, a 23-year veteran of the department, is the first female chief, the first openly gay chief and the first Asian-American chief in Berkeley.

Her appointment, made official at the council’s May 9 meeting, was delayed because the city is investigating at least one police officer for allegedly sending text messages that were racist and disparaged unhoused people. That officer may have set arrest quotas as supervisor of the department’s downtown task force/bike unit.

“I have sufficient information at this time to proceed with confidence with recommending this appointment occur now,” City Manager Dee Williams-Ridley said before the City Council voted Tuesday night.

“Any statements that the text message investigation targets the conduct of interim chief Jen Louis are false,” Williams-Ridley added.

Entangled in texting controversy

Sgt. Darren Kacalek is the officer at the center of the scandal and was the supervisor of the downtown task force/bike unit.

Kacalek is on leave from the department as two investigations into the scandal are completed. He has also stepped down from his role as president of the police union, the Berkeley Police Association.

Some community members demanded that city officials further delay the selection of a permanent chief until the investigations into the texting scandal are complete.

“Any statements that the text message investigation targets the conduct of interim chief Jen Louis are false.”

City Manager Dee Williams-Ridley

The community members were concerned Louis may have had some authority over the perpetrators of the scandal. Louis has denied that and any knowledge of what happened until Nov. 10 of last year when a complaint was made to the city.

“I was the captain in charge of the Operations Division until January 2018, which was before any of the incidents in this subunit allegedly occurred,” Louis said. “I was appointed as interim chief in March 2021, after these alleged incidents occurred.”

Williams-Ridley said the text messages were sent between October 2019 and December 2020, a period when Louis was overseeing a different area of the Police Department.

Williams-Ridley told the council that after five months of an ongoing investigation, she is confident that it is unnecessary to delay Louis’ appointment any longer.

Arguing the case for delaying a vote

Like some community members demanded, Councilmember Kate Harrison wanted to delay Tuesday’s eventual vote until the two investigations were complete. That would have pushed the vote to sometime after July 8.

Councilmember Ben Bartlett also wanted to hold off on a vote until the investigations were complete.

“I fail to see the emergency nature of this arbitrary deadline,” Bartlett said.

He said arbitrary deadlines are a hallmark of a negative bureaucracy.

But Councilmember Rashi Kesarwani reiterated a concern of Williams-Ridley, saying officers and supervisors are leaving the department due to the lack of stability.

The department has fewer than 120 of the 181 officers authorized, Kesarwani said. That’s one-third fewer officers to respond to community needs, she said.

Harrison made a motion supporting her position to delay the vote. That motion failed 5-4 with her, Bartlett, Sophie Hahn and Mayor Jesse Arreguin in favor of the motion.

Then the council voted 7-2 to approve Louis as police chief.

Keith Burbank, Bay City News

Keith Burbank is currently a fulltime reporter covering Alameda County and Oakland news for Bay City News. He has also worked on the Data Points project for Local News Matters, finding trends and stories about the region through data. In 2019, he was a California Fellow at the USC Annenberg Center for Health Journalism, producing a series about homeless deaths in Santa Clara County. He worked as a swing shift editor for the newswire for several years as well. Outside of journalism, Keith enjoys computer programming, math, economics and music.