The city of Patterson is getting a new police chief, and the change of guard has left some residents within the city wondering what is going on.
Patterson’s Chief Tori Hughes has been asked to take on a new assignment as the investigations division commander within the Sheriff’s Department, and Lt. Jeff Dirkse has been chosen as her replacement by Sheriff Adam Christianson.
The announcement, made public late Monday night via a Stanislaus County Sheriff’s Nixle report, caught many in the city off guard, including Mayor Luis Molina and members of the City Council, since it is stated in the Stanislaus County Sheriff’s Law Enforcement Agreement (LEA) with the city of Patterson that a list of qualified candidates must be provided to the city so that they may be able to provide recommendation to Sheriff Adam Christianson regarding the position of the Chief of Police.
“It’s pretty interesting that they put something out there without talking to us,” Mayor Molina said of the Nixle report. “I’m dissecting the contract and what it says. There’s a spirit of it, and a letter of it. If the county sheriff was going to give us a list of qualified candidates, one, we don’t have a list.”
City Councilwoman Sheree Lustgarten also was not satisfied with the lack of communication involving the decision of the new chief.
“That’s what we found out,” Lustgarten said by phone after first learning about the decision early Tuesday morning. “I’m not real thrilled how it’s going down. I want to look into our ordinances if they’re going to rotate people. I don’t just let things happen. I’m going to look into this.”
Disagreement on decision
Deputy City Attorney Douglas White confirmed disagreement with the county regarding the decision. “We would like to have much more public participatory process than maybe the contract otherwise requires,” White said by phone Tuesday morning. “Ultimately, we have input on it, for the people that apply, but the Sheriff has ultimate decision.”
“The sheriff’s contract creates inherent challenges,” White went on to say. “Providing police services is personal to the community. (The chief) is someone who the city wants to have trust in, and familiarity. There was a lot of confidence in the existing police chief.”
While White confirmed disagreement with the process, he also confirmed that the city had prior knowledge that this change was in the works.
“The city has had communication on city staff level,” White said. “No lack of communication, but disagreements. That doesn’t mean that the process was wrong.
“We were having regular conversations with the Sheriff’s Department, and the Patterson chief of police has been in Patterson longer than any other chief has been in any other contract city.”
“Given her long tenure in Patterson, that wouldn’t be a conversation that would be unexpected,” White added.
“There was an open dialogue with the city. They knew what was going on. They were informed. They knew quite well what was going on,” Sheriff Adam Christianson said by phone Tuesday morning. “Capt. Jim Gordon has been working with the city manager for two months or more.”
Sheriff Christianson went on to explain that the rotation of Chief Hughes is an added ramification of the cuts that the Sheriff’s Department had to endure back in 2009.
“We’re allocating resources appropriately as we continue to recover from the cuts,” Christianson said, adding that only one Lieutenant, Lt. Jeff Dirkse, applied for the open position of chief of police for the Patterson substation.
“One of the things you have to keep in mind is that in 2006 we had 19 Lieutenants,” Christianson said. “Right now, your options are a little limited. All 11 (lieutenants) were available, and only one chose to put in for the assignment.”
Molina was ready to respond to the notion of the sheriff not being able to produce a list of qualified applicants to the city.
“And if he says we don’t have enough qualified candidates—if it isn’t broke, don’t fix it,” Molina said in reference to keeping Hughes as the city’s chief.
Molina explained that his frustration in the rotation of Stanislaus County Sheriff’s personnel assigned to Patterson extends beyond the installation of a new chief of police by Sheriff Christianson. It stemmed from a fight he witnessed at North Park in downtown Patterson Monday evening, April 13, around 6:45 p.m., where at least one person had a Taser used on them by sheriff’s patrol deputies.
According to the mayor, he approached the deputies on foot to see what the issue was, since their patrol vehicles were blocking the westbound traffic of East Las Palmas Avenue.
“One officer looked at me like, ‘Who are you, and why are you here?’ ” Molina said before a separate officer informed the first that he was speaking to the mayor. “We definitely have some new faces.”
Monday night’s incident was reported in the police log as an assault with a deadly weapon. Requests to the Sheriff’s Department by the Patterson Irrigator for information on the matter, as well as with three other incidents of note over the past week, have not been returned as of publication time.
Revised Law Enforcement Agreement
Molina was unsure of the specific change in procedure from when Hughes was selected as chief in 2009, since at the time Molina was only involved on the city of Patterson’s Planning Commission, but said that he’s seen the process change since then.
The change in process Molina spoke of is explained in the LEA with the city of Patterson that went into effect in July of 2013 and will last through June of 2016, barring some sort of request to extend or terminate the LEA.
A chief of police appointment process, as well as a replacement process, were both outlined in the new LEA. In the appointment process, the document says that the County shall provide a list of lieutenants qualified to serve as the chief of police for the city.
The city may interview the candidate(s) and provide the county with the city’s recommendation of the candidate to be appointed as the chief of police. After considering the recommendation of the city, the county will assign a Lieutenant who will act as the chief of police.
Under the replacement process for the city of Patterson’s chief of police, the document states that the county may replace the chief of police after 90 days written notice to the city. The county will remove the chief of police within 30 days of receipt of the written request from the city, stating the reasonable cause for said request.
Upon the city’s request, the county shall temporarily appoint a person as acting chief of police and fill a vacant chief of police position within 60 days of receipt of the city’s request and in accordance with county policy and employee collective bargaining unit contracts.
At the time that Hughes was named chief in 2009, the city was operating under a previous version of the LEA, effective July of 2008 through June of 2013.
It stated that the Sheriff (Adam Christianson) will assign a lieutenant or higher ranking manager who will serve in the role of chief of police. It also states that the chief of police position is to be a “mutually agreeable” position with the city and the Sheriff for this management position.
The previous LEA also explained that the sheriff would provide a list of qualified candidates to the city manager if the position was vacated, a provision that was left out of the revised 2013 through 2016 LEA that is currently in effect.
Choosing Hughes as chief
In 2009, as a result of the mutual agreement for the position of chief of police between the sheriff and the city, then acting city manager Cleve Morris opted for a lengthy interview process which pitted Hughes against two other top applicants, West Area Watch Commander Mario Cisneros and Central Area Command Chief Mike Radford.
The three candidates each went through interviews with the city manager, as well as with three panels—one comprising of other area police chiefs, one of community members, and one of the City Council. Each was scored by the panels and the scores led to the city manager’s decision.
Morris had ultimate authority over his recommendation, according to the contract, but chose to go through the interview process to ensure that the decision was a choice of the people of Patterson.
Then mayor Becky Campo was quoted in an article previously published by the Irrigator, saying, “As far as we’re aware, no other cities would have gone to those lengths to choose a chief. But (Morris) wanted to prove the new chief would be the people’s choice.”
At the time of the 2008 through 2013 LEA, when Chief Hughes was first chosen as chief of police, the county required the city to account for 20 percent of the cost of the chief’s position, while the county would account for the remaining 80 percent.
Now, the 2013 through 2016 LEA, currently in effect, states that the city of Patterson is required to pay 80 percent of the cost of the chief’s position, while only 20 percent is to be accounted for by the County.
Chief Hughes announced her desire to run for the position of StanislausCounty sheriff-coroner in June of 2013, attempting to unseat Christianson, but bowed out of the race in January 2014, citing health reasons.
By the end of the day April 14, after news regarding the new chief of police was able to set in, council members seemed to have a better understanding of the situation.
Councilman Dennis McCord, who had a meeting with Capt. Jim Gordon of the Sheriff’s Department on Tuesday, explained that representatives from the Sheriff’s Department would be on hand during the next meeting of the City Council, and that Capt. Gordon had already made appointments to meet with specific council members to answer their concerns in advance of the next council meeting.
“The perception could have looked better,” McCord said by phone Tuesday afternoon. “Hopefully we can make this as smooth of a transition at this point.”
Molina, amongst others, is looking at this matter very closely.
“For me, as a mayor, it becomes a bigger issue,” Molina said. “When it comes to our public safety, we deserve more than that.”
City Manager Ken Irwin stated that he wasn’t able to speak much of closed-session discussions, but that, “we’re still trying to figure out what to do and working with the sheriff to see what to do.”
“We still want to have a process,” Irwin said, “and we’re waiting to see what comes out of that.”
Calls to speak with Chief Hughes were not returned as of publication time.
A request to speak with Lt. Dirkse was not granted, as well as a request to speak with one of three sergeants, who is required to be on staff, according to the current LEA.
Irrigator editor Elias Funez can be reached at 209-892-6187 ext 306, or email@example.com.