Updated Dec. 11, 1:43 p.m.
The city of Sacramento announced Friday that it hired Kathy Lester as its new police chief, making her the first woman ever to lead the department.
Lester, a 27-year veteran of the department and currently the deputy chief of operations, will take over for Chief Daniel Hahn, the city’s first Black police chief who announced his retirement in the summer.
In a statement, Lester said she’s “humbled” to accept the position, and wants to continue to “make our city a place where everyone feels safe, secure and protected.”
“I joined the Sacramento Police Department because of its reputation for community-based policing, and that spirit of community and collaboration has long been instilled in me,” she said.
Lester steps into the position at a time when the department is under scrutiny for withholding records related to police response to last year’s protests over George Floyd’s murder at the hands of Minneapolis police.
During his time, Hahn championed himself as transparent. Under state and local law, he released body and dashcam video from police officer shootings and use-of-force incidents.
Hahn succeeded former police chief Sam Somers Jr., who retired in 2016 after two of his police officers shot and killed Joseph Mann, a mentally ill Black man whose death led to transparency changes within the department.
In his four years in the position, Hahn oversaw the department’s response to the police killing of Stephon Clark, a 22-year-old Black man who was shot in his grandmother’s Meadowview backyard. He was criticized for his handling of the protests that followed, one of which led to more than 80 people being arrested during a demonstration in the wealthy East Sacramento neighborhood.
Since 2017, the year Hahn was sworn in, Sacramento police officers shot, killed or used excessive force in at least 50 reported incidents, according to the department’s records.
Keyan Bliss, a local organizer and member of the city’s Police Advisory Commission, told CapRadio none of the commission members were consulted about the new chief before the appointment was announced.
“I’m not really impressed with the level of transparency and competitiveness in the hiring process,” Bliss said. “I have some serious questions with how the city of Sacramento conducted this hiring process for our next police chief.”
He said he’s concerned that Lester’s decades with the department means nothing will change, and that she wouldn’t be willing to make any of the reforms advocates have been asking for.
City spokesperson Tim Swanson said in an email that the hiring process was “done in accordance with the City of Sacramento Charter.”
He added that the city did include the public’s input — through a survey that was released early in the process. Swanson said 1,700 people responded, and the hiring committee considered that in selecting the new chief.
Swanson said the top qualities the public asked for were ethics, commitment to diversity, accountability and transparency, among other things.
Still, Henry Ortiz — an organizer with All of Us or None Sacramento, an advocacy group for individuals and families of those who have been incarcerated — says the lack of transparency will lead to further distrust with marginalized communities.
“The whole hiring process wasn’t even transparent — nobody got to run, nobody got informed,” Ortiz said. “All this was done within their own little culture.”
Tanya Faison, founder of Black Lives Matter Sacramento, said the pick and the process didn't surprise her.
"The police department is working exactly how it's supposed to be working, they're always going to choose someone from within, or someone from within another department due to experience," Faison said. "I don't think Sac PD is ever going to get out of or go into the direction of doing something really new or really for the people."
New chief Lester will lead a department that is mostly white and often accused of racial bias and discrimination.
A report released by the department over the summer revealed that Sacramento Police officers stopped, searched and used force against Black residents at significantly higher rates than white people.
In the Sacramento Police Department, about 70% of officers are white. Just 5% are Black.
Lester, a Sacramento native, joined the department in 1994 as a police dispatcher, according to the city. She was sworn in as an officer two years later and worked patrol, internal affairs, as a top lieutenant in the department, and more.
She has a bachelor’s degree from Sacramento State University in government and international relations and a master’s degree in geosciences from Mississippi State University.
City Manager Howard Chan, who was in charge of the hiring, said “no one better to serve in this role and to continue the ongoing efforts of the department and its outstanding employees.”
Mayor Darrell Steinberg echoed those sentiments, saying Lester is “100% the right person.”
“I know she will be terrific in this position and continue the high standards set by Chief Hahn,” Steinberg said in a statement.
During the nationwide search, there were more than 1,700 responses to a community survey asking which qualities were needed for the new police chief, the city said.
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