Burgreen Is Confirmed Unanimously as Chief
After hearing the tributes of more than 25 community leaders Monday, the San Diego City Council unanimously confirmed the appointment of Bob Burgreen as the city’s new chief of police.
The vote of confidence came at the end of a three-hour hearing in which the majority of the council members without hesitation threw their support behind the 49-year-old Burgreen and wished him success in turning back a rising crime rate as well as bridging a large gap in police-community relations.
“This city has grown tremendously,” Mayor Maureen O’Connor told Burgreen, noting that she and Burgreen have worked closely together during his 10 years as assistant chief of the 1,850-officer San Diego Police Department.
“You know the issues in the Police Department better than anyone. You know the issues have to be addressed, and you know how to address them.”
Burgreen, in a black pinstripe suit and accompanied by his wife, Kathy, and four deputy chiefs, had come to City Hall Monday afternoon expecting a somewhat heated confirmation hearing.
In the past, his record as the No. 2 man in the Police Department was largely unrecognized, except for events in recent years that included his reprimand in a ticket-fixing scandal and his role in the break in police community relations brought on by the Sagon Penn incident and the police shooting of Tommie Dubose.
But he came away from Monday’s hearing barely scathed. In fact, only two councilmen brought up sensitive questions dealing with a decline in respect for police in the minority community and his past mistakes in doing favors for friends as assistant chief.
Procession of Speakers
“I was apprehensive, and I was excited,” he said in describing his thoughts before meeting with the council. “But, as you saw today, every part of this community has shown a trust in me. So the question of my support was answered easily.”
Indeed, a procession of speakers took turns showering their support on Burgreen and telling the council that he was by far the best candidate to succeed Bill Kolender.
For instance, San Diego County Dist. Atty. Edwin Miller described how Burgreen reacted to a critical review from his prosecutors that called for significant police policy changes after the Dubose shooting last March. Miller said he had expected Burgreen to be resistant to the recommendations but instead found him very receptive.
“There was no equivocation on his part,” Miller said. “There was no evasion. There was no effort to put the blame elsewhere.”
Likewise, the Rev. George Walker Smith, spokesman for the Civilian Advisory Panel on Police Practices, said Burgreen has always been “firm but fair” in dealing with citizen complaints against errant officers.
“I stand here 1,000% behind this man,” Smith said.
Burgreen, standing before the council, gratefully accepted the support of each of the council members and mayor. The only hint of discord came from questions posed by Councilmen Bob Filner and Wes Pratt.
Filner was the only one to bring up the subject of the reprimand, saying he was sure it was an issue his constituents would want the new chief to answer.
Burgreen admitted that he and Kolender had “developed habits that were inappropriate” in doing favors for friends during the scandal of two years ago.
“We became an easy touch for a few people who came to us with a few good stories,” he said. “That should never happen. I regret that it did. In the future, there will be no favors from the chief’s office for anyone.”
Filner also asked Burgreen how the department can overcome the damage in public perception of the Police Department that followed the Sagon Penn and Dubose shootings. The chief said police can begin by not acting so defensive to public criticism.
“We have to be open-minded,” he said. “And secondly, we must never short ourselves a nickel when it comes to training. We must train officers how to protect themselves, but also how to deal with people and treat people with dignity and respect. We must teach them to be able to treat people so they don’t hate you.”
Pratt asked specifically how Burgreen plans to restore public confidence in the Police Department, particularly in the minority communities.
The chief said he will soon begin holding night meetings with citizens at each of the city’s nine police storefronts. “I know who the community leaders are,” he said. “Now I want to meet the people who live in those communities and hear their concerns.”
He also said he will ride along with officers and observe how they patrol their beats, looking for ways to improve the police presence in high-tension areas. “We have to make sure we’re doing everything to equip and train our officers,” he said.
Burgreen was also asked to describe his mission for the Police Department.
“My vision is one of modern crime fighters who also treat people with respect and dignity,” he said. “Of officers who are knowledgeable about the community.
“I will always be open and receptive. It’s as important what people say to me as what I say. I will be communicative. I will be decisive. I will listen to the needs of every segment of this community.”