With his long career of working with police departments, mainly as deputy chief of police for administrative services in Richmond, Virginia, Councilman John Kennedy continues his service to the community as the public safety committee chairman.
In the wake of the Anthony McClain police-involved shooting, he served as the mediator between the police and community, holding a town hall with the Chief of Police John Perez and other command staff via Zoom.
In his balanced approach to situations similar to the McClain shooting, he hopes to mend the relationship between the community and the police.
How big of a win for Pasadena are the establishment of the police oversight commission and independent auditor?
I think we made the right step on the right path. It’s one step in a whole host of steps that must be taken. It’s a good step in the right direction for transparency, for really educating the community about what happens in our police department. We have, in my view, a lot of very fine men and women who work for the police department.
It is extremely important to ensure that our men and women are abreast of the very best tactics that exist and doing their job in a community respected manner.
As it relates to the oversight, it is a long time coming to fashion a framework that all of the council members could agree on. I think we had some help because of just how bad people perceive certain departments outside of Pasadena.
From a community perspective, we want to know as much information as possible and as quickly as possible. I think that’s a good hope because that reduces misinformation when you have official information being put out by the affected department agency, etc.
We hope to seek ways to change things for the better. That is at least my goal as one council member.
How will this deter police-involved shootings similar to the Anthony McClain?
I’m not sure about it deterring similar police shootings because every officer-involved shooting has a separate set of facts, but the goal is to create greater transparency, to ensure that state-of-the-art training is taking place and then inculcate in our officers that there are a number of set of eyes that will be tasked with looking at conduct. That just increases the amount of transparency that the community has demanded and, in my view, rightly so.
It also protects the rights of the police officer who may be engaged not only in an officer-involved shooting but other conduct that is inappropriate in the role of a police officer or a member of the Pasadena Police Department. This doesn’t just cut one way. It cuts to be fair to the community and be fair to the police personnel who may be engaged in some internal or external review of their conduct.
You know in your heart when a community member’s life is lost in this manner particularly that he had three young children. They will be without a father.
I suspect that the police officer who actually shot Mr. McClain is dealing with the decision that he made. I was not there and many of the critics on both sides were not there when the officer-involved shooting took place.
What do you think it would take in order for something like the Anthony McClain shooting to happen less often?
Unnecessary barriers exist between the police officers and the community. By breaking down those barriers through greater involvement with one another and greater communications. I think it’s extremely important to minimize negative interactions between visitors to Pasadena, residents of Pasadena and the businesspeople of Pasadena with the Pasadena Police Department.
My goal is to develop platforms, avenues and opportunities for the Pasadena Police Department to interact with the community—all of the community. That interaction, that communication is one of the ways in which we reduce negative views on either side of the issue.
From the community’s perspective, we simply just want the police officers to do their job with aplomb. From the police perspective, I’m hoping that with more interaction, getting out of your cars, engaging people in a positive way, that we’re going to increase communication, break down unnecessary barriers and improve police-community relations.
I think Pasadena is fortunate to have a police chief that has grown up essentially in Pasadena and knows Pasadena inside and out. Someone who’s committed to a lifetime of learning and willing to make tough decisions to make the Pasadena Police Department better.
How has your background in policing helped you have a balanced approach to situations?
Even before I was deputy chief of police for administrative services in Richmond, Virginia, I had a balanced approach to policing and the community. I favor the community’s perspective oftentimes, because generally, I believe law enforcement in this country has not reached the point where it doesn’t operate with implicit bias.
The training academy for the Richmond Police Department fell under my responsibility. I had sworn members of the Richmond Police Department reporting directly to me. I was a civilian deputy police chief, not a sworn deputy police chief, but I was responsible for the training of the men and women of the Richmond Police Department, the finance, budget, property, evidence, planning and all of our community policing outreach programs.
I hired a Ph.D. to co-manage the training academy. I believe in sending men and women away to obtain additional training. I would send people to the FBI Academy, the National Fire Academy and the Secret Service.
With shootings such as Anthony McClain and Jacob Blake and the deaths of Eric Garner and more recently George Floyd, what emotions come to you when you hear about these deaths?
It’s obvious that I’m African American and proudly African American. There seems to be a bias in our country related to negative interactions with African American males.
When I have been pulled over as recently as last year or the beginning of this year by a police officer in Los Angeles, it’s my view that part of that was related to that I’m an African American. Whether that’s true or not, that’s my feeling.
Police officers have to be trained to deal with two issues at least, and that is are you operating without implicit bias and are you doing anything that gives the person who is being stopped by the impression that you are stopping them for any reason other than what is legally permissible.
Every police officer who works for the Pasadena Police Department should conduct themselves in the highest of moral, ethical and legal manner possible, not part of the time but all of the time.
As we hire more and more extremely well-educated young men and women in the police department, we will, I believe, get better and better results related to policing.