THE ANTIOCH CITY COUNCIL have taken control of the hiring, firing and evaluating of future police chiefs, taking the responsibility from the city manager.
The council voted 3-2 on Aug.22, with Councilmembers Michael Barbanica and Lori Ogorchock dissenting.
Both positions of city manager and police chief are currently vacant in Antioch.
Former Police Chief Steven Ford announced his retirement July 19, effective Aug. 11 — the same week at least six former Antioch officers were indicted by the U.S. Department of Justice on a variety of civil rights charges, ranging from improper use of weapons and a police dog on people to selling steroids.
Ford was replaced by acting Chief Joe Vigil.
Former City Manager Cornelius Johnson’s resignation took effect in July, after he was placed on administrative leave March 14.
Johnson, who came to the job from the San Francisco police force with no city administrative experience, was suspended after former city public information officer Rolando Bonilla — who answered to Johnson — attributed a false statement to Ford in a press release about commercial burglaries. Bonilla no longer works for the city.
Kwame Reed is the acting city manager.
“The residents of this community have demanded the change that we’re making here today, if the council continues to go in this direction, because for decades, residents … have allowed this council to get away with murder.”Mayor Lamar Thorpe
Mayor Lamar Thorpe said the death of Angelo Quinto at the hands of police in 2020 prompted some council members to take a more direct approach that involves the community.
He said previous city councils failed to rein in the Police Department.
“The residents of this community have demanded the change that we’re making here today, if the council continues to go in this direction, because for decades, residents … have allowed this council to get away with murder,” Thorpe said. “Absolute murder and failure to provide oversight.”
Politicizing the department?
Ogorchock and Barbanica, a former police officer, were against the move, because they said it could politicize the Police Department.
“I don’t want a police department to become a political arm of the city,” Barbanica said. “I’m not talking about just this council, but also future councils as well. I would rather there’s a buffer between the council and the police chief, and that the police chief reports, and is evaluated and hired directly, by the city manager, who is hired by us.”
Barbanica acknowledged talk of the council not doing enough in the past, and that it needs to change.
“I would rather there’s a buffer between the council and the police chief, and that the police chief reports, and is evaluated and hired directly, by the city manager, who is hired by us.”Councilmember Michael Barbanica
“Should we hold officers accountable? Absolutely. Should we hold the city manager accountable for the police chief that he or she hires and the actions of that chief and that department? Absolutely. I don’t believe historically that that has occurred at the level that it should,” Barbanica said.
Thorpe said the council has been “kept in the dark” during the most recent Police Department crisis and wasn’t even informed which officers were suspended while the FBI and Contra Costa County District Attorney’s Office investigated the department.
“We don’t know anything, because there is, in fact, a buffer between the Police Department, which is our Police Department and its elected body,” Thorpe said. “I absolutely do not agree with that.”
The new pecking order takes effect 90 days after the second reading of the new ordinance — presumably at the next council meeting — to give the city time to hire an interim police chief and get them up to speed.