Oxnard Police Chief Jeri Williams announced last week that she had accepted the job as the new chief of the Phoenix Police Department, beginning in October. She took on the role in Oxnard in 2011, leaving her assistant police chief position in Phoenix, where she began as a police trainee in 1988. This week, after more than a week of violence of police shootings and civilians shooting police, Williams called for unity:
“Yes, it’s true there are racial tensions, but the way to go through fostering change is unity and discussion. I believe Americans are better than what’s going on right now. Hopefully communities of color and law enforcement will talk about how we’re more similar than different. If we get to that point, we can create partnerships to change policies and procedures. We don’t want communities of color to not have conversations with law enforcement. We are one.”
After several years of stories about officers killing unarmed black men, plus Oxnard Police Department’s own officer-involved deaths (resulting in the department paying out millions in two wrongful death lawsuits), Williams has been on the frontlines of racial tensions. It must not be easy to be in law enforcement in this day and time. The irony in Williams’ situation, however, is that some in the Oxnard community have said she has certain biases not favorable to minorities. Given that she is a black woman — among so few to make it to the top of her industry — it’s hard to understand that ideology.
While we can’t speak for her or for the community that has posed these theories, it’s clear that we need more minorities to make it to the top ranks of law enforcement. But when even in Dallas, where the police chief is indeed a black man and the department is known for transparency and proper management, five officers were killed on July 7 by a vengeful black Army reservist, we can’t help but wonder when we are going to stop talking just about race and start talking about the criminal element on the street and in the ranks of law enforcement. The need for accountability on both sides of the fence is critical in understanding and fostering safe communities. But that starts with conversation. We agree with Williams — now is the time for unity and discussion. Continued polarization too often ends in violence and even death, as witnessed recently in Baton Rouge, with the death of three law enforcement officers, which included a black man.
As the Oxnard Police Department and the city of Oxnard begin the search for a new police chief, we hope whoever is appointed to the position will, regardless of skin color, continue the call for unity.