East Palo Alto introduces police chief candidates

At public event, three veteran policemen stress community engagement

After a day of interviews, the City of East Palo Alto gave the community a chance Saturday to meet with the three final candidates for the position of chief of police.

All dressed in suits, the contenders -- Brian Ferrante, Thomas McCarthy and Albert Pardini -- answered questions from community members on issues that ranged from preventative programs to immigration, parolee reentry and police staffing levels. Though staff only intended to have the three candidates mingle during the hour-long event, Assistant City Manager Barbara Powell bowed to numerous requests and asked each candidate to give a brief statement from the podium.

The candidates talked about their backgrounds in police work in the Bay Area, as well as their goal of opening up new channels of communication with the East Palo Alto community. However, they had different, specific ideas on how they would go about accomplishing that objective.

Brian Ferrante, who most recently retired as captain of the Foothill Division in San Jose, talked about his 20 and a half years of experience working with the San Jose Police Department. He compared the demographics and issues of East Palo Alto to those in that area, mentioning specifically a gap between the community and the city's police.

"You have a community that in a lot of ways has been underserved or maybe doesn't trust the police department or know how to access services," Ferrante said. "So one of the issues that we want to overcome is that fear and that distrust by going out there and being a force with the community and reaching out to those people who really don't feel like they have a voice."

Ferrante also mentioned the importance of having the police be a positive presence in schools, as well as tailoring programs to particular issues in the community. He gave as one example a zip code in the Foothill Division where his force had noticed a higher than expected incidence of youth committing low-level crimes. He said that he brought the police, community organizations and other entities together to look at the problem. Eight months ago they started a program that would "funnel" these offenders into counseling at Mount Pleasant High School.

The next candidate who spoke was Albert "Al" Pardini, who referenced his 31 years of experience in the San Francisco Police Department. Pardini said that he is familiar with East Palo Alto and has watched the policing strategies there so that he could apply that knowledge in a two-year role as police captain in the Bayview neighborhood in San Francisco.

Pardini offered specific ideas on how he would connect with the community in East Palo Alto: interacting with community-based organizations and the clergy; sending out weekly emails to educate the public and provide transparency on how the police are responding; and hold town hall meetings upon his hiring to introduce himself.

"I don't want to be this mysterious character, that 'They hired from where? And who is he?'" he said. "I want people to recognize me when I'm in the community."

Pardini also brought up the importance of creating a permanent, main location for the department, to replace the current fragmentation over a few locations. Bringing those together would facilitate collaboration among officers and make it easier for community members to request help, he said.

Thomas "Tom" McCarthy, the third candidate and the current chief of police for Dublin in the East Bay, said that he has held a variety of positions -- everything from "community policing" to assignments at the Santa Rita Jail, working in internal affairs and training new sergeants. His career with the Alameda County Sheriff's Office has lasted 31 years, he said. In his statement he emphasized his experience as a teacher and mentor.

One of the big paradigm shifts, he said, was when he was a sergeant and he was put in charge of developing and improving the department's community-policing program.

"I kind of have a history of getting sent to duty stations that needed some assistance to put them back on track," he said.

A community member later approached McCarthy to ask him why he wanted the job. He responded that East Palo Alto is currently going through a transformation and community members will want more out of their public services. He also mentioned the small size of East Palo Alto as providing an opportunity to make significant changes.

"I really like being part of change management," he said.

Powell said anyone who wants to provide feedback on the candidates can email her at or any of the City Council members.

East Palo Alto has been searching for a permanent police chief since longtime head Ronald Davis left in November 2013 to serve as the director of the U.S. Department of Justice Office of Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) in Washington, D.C. Steve Belcher, a retired Santa Cruz Police Department chief, has been serving as interim chief -- the city's third since Davis left -- since July 1.

With the meet-and-greet completed, a 10-member panel of community members and City Council members that interviewed the candidates on Saturday will give input to City Manager Magda Gonzalez, who will make the final decision on the candidates. Whoever is chosen will also have to undergo a thorough background check and physical exam. City officials have said they hope to hire a new police chief by mid-October.

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Like this comment
Posted by Mark Dinan
a resident of East Palo Alto
on Aug 11, 2014 at 10:11 am

Mark Dinan is a registered user.

I hope the next police chief in East Palo Alto will be fully fluent in Spanish & appreciate that a huge number of people in EPA do not speak English. It should be a prerequisite for all police officers to speak Spanish too, as the community is majority Latino at this point. One of the things I have noticed about the police department here is that the communication (facebook, website, etc) is primarily English focused. Building a strong relationship with the community starts by speaking the same language! Ravenswood School district is 85% Latino as a point of reference.

Crime is down dramatically in East Palo Alto, and best of luck to the next police chief in maintaining the positive trend.

Like this comment
Posted by denese
a resident of Midtown
on Aug 11, 2014 at 11:04 am

You don't need to be lation or fluent in spanish to make a difference in the community. He just needs to be able to connect with the community as a whole. When you focus on a set race or language you set up a set expectation.
Let's expect whom ever they hire be able to connect with the community as a whole.

Like this comment
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 11, 2014 at 11:13 am

[Post removed.]

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Posted by neighbor
a resident of another community
on Aug 11, 2014 at 11:25 am

Note to the person whose name = "EPA-IS-TOO-TO-BE-A-VIABLE-TOWN."

Per the census, East Palo Alto's population is about the same size as each of these other San Mateo County towns:
Foster City
Menlo Park
San Carlos

Like this comment
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 11, 2014 at 1:01 pm

> Per the census, East Palo Alto's population is about the same
> size as each of these other San Mateo County towns:

Your data may be correct, but you shouldn't stop there. EPA is about 2.6 square miles in area. So--before we look at the population of a town, you also need to look at the area within its municipal boundaries. We need to look at the assessed value of its property base, and we need to look at its tax revenues. We need to look at it's ability to attract business.

It's probable that people who think that EPA is big enough to be viable have never bothered to look at all of these other variables.

And then there is the crime problem. Do any of these other towns have the crime problem--that often spills over to Palo Alto and Menlo Park? [Portion removed.]

Unless there is a wholesale reshaping of this town--EPA will always be too small to be viable.

Like this comment
Posted by Mark Dinan
a resident of East Palo Alto
on Aug 11, 2014 at 3:41 pm

Mark Dinan is a registered user.

Denese - if you want to solve and prevent crimes in EPA, being able to communicate effectively with the community should be a prerequisite. Imagine Palo Alto or Menlo Park with a a police chief that only speaks Spanish - it wouldn't work. EPA's population is majority Spanish speaking at this point, and communicating with this population is essential. I have neighbors who simply don't trust the police because they don't speak Spanish, and won't call in to crime hotlines as a result. Given how prevalent Spanish is in California, it would be surprising if the candidates do not already speak Spanish. I don't think asking for Spanish fluency is an impossible requirement. This will be a tough job on any number of levels, and best of luck to whoever gets the gig!

Like this comment
Posted by Hmmm
a resident of East Palo Alto
on Aug 11, 2014 at 7:23 pm

Hmmm is a registered user.

Denese and Mark - thank you both for your opinions. I appreciate both points of view. What do you both think of the actual candidates - have you heard anything about them that made you think there's one best suited for our city?

Like this comment
Posted by BarronPark5
a resident of Barron Park
on Aug 11, 2014 at 9:30 pm

BarronPark5 is a registered user.

All 3 candidates seem qualified to step into the Chief's position in EPA. They each bring decades of experience, community policing knowledge, and a desire to get to know the community they'll be serving. The article did not mention the officers of the Department. Will the new Chief have the necessary resources to be successful ? Is the Department fully staffed? Do the officers have all of the equipment they need to do their jobs? What about the Department's budget? If the EPA has a healthy budget and a fully staffed police force, any one of the three candidates would be a good choice for the Chief's job. If there are challenges in budget or staffing, I recommend a candidate from a larger police agency.

Like this comment
Posted by Tired of the BS
a resident of East Palo Alto
on Aug 11, 2014 at 10:53 pm

Tired of the BS is a registered user.

I don't think being Spanish speaking should be a requirement for a police chief or police officer. I work with the public, I make an effort to communicate with people who speak other languages, but ultimately this is an English speaking country and the requirement should be the other way around.

I am also concerned with the new chief having the resources necessary to do the job. It doesn't matter who we hire as long as we have such a low number of officers and the equipment they need to do the job. With Chief Davis, it felt like the police department had their hand in everything. I like the community involvement, but I think the department needs to focus on themselves for a while.

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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