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Berkeley Postpones Hiring of New Police Chief Amid Controversy Over Officer's Alleged Racist Texts

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Berkeley public safety building seen during the day with three cars lined up outside of the building.
Berkeley's public safety building. (Paul Chinn/The San Francisco Chronicle via Getty Images)

Berkeley city officials have postponed the appointment of a new police chief to allow time to investigate allegations that a sergeant in the city's police force sent racist texts and engaged in other misconduct.

City Manager Dee Williams-Ridley announced the move Tuesday night during a City Council meeting that was set to approve the hiring of Jennifer Louis, who has served as Berkeley's interim police chief since early last year.

City officials faced mounting demands for a delay in the hiring process after a fired former Berkeley police officer emailed Berkeley Mayor Jesse Arreguín and council members alleging that his former supervisor, Sgt. Darren Kacalek, had sent numerous texts with derogatory comments about Black people and unsheltered residents.

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Corey Shedoudy, the former officer, who was dismissed from his post on the Police Department's bicycle patrol force in August 2021, also alleged that Kacalek directed officers in the patrol to conduct a crackdown against unhoused people, with a quota of 100 arrests a month.

Kacalek is also president of the Berkeley Police Association, the department's union.

Louis said in a statement this week that she didn't know about the allegations against Kacalek until last week. And in an initial letter sent to the City Council prior to Tuesday night's meeting, Williams-Ridley called the charges against the sergeant "disturbing," but said she did not see any reason to hold up a permanent appointment for the interim chief.

"My initial inquiry affirms she had no knowledge of the allegations or messages provided by Officer Shedoudy," Williams-Ridley wrote.

During a protracted period of public comment at Tuesday night's meeting, speakers were unanimous in criticizing both Berkeley police and the city manager's initial attempt to proceed with the hiring process.

"It's not just the Police Department," said Soli Alpert, who is vice chair of the city's rent board but addressed the Council on his own behalf. "There is a rotten culture of impunity and lack of accountability that has been allowed to spread in the city, and the fish rots from the head down."

Alameda County Chief Public Defender Brendon Woods also spoke at Tuesday's meeting, accusing Louis of being unresponsive to his office's complaints about the conduct of some Berkeley officers. The Kacalek incident, he said, raised further questions about her ability to lead the department.

"Arrest quotas, derogatory comments about unhoused people and racism have no place in policing," Woods said. "But they seem to be prevalent in the Berkeley Police Department and prevalent under the current leadership."

Williams-Ridley, on Tuesday, said that Louis concurred with the decision to postpone the appointment vote and that she will continue to serve as interim chief while the city hires an outside firm to investigate the text allegations. The city's Police Accountability Board also voted to begin its own investigation of the incident.

At about the same time that Williams-Ridley announced the decision to postpone Louis' appointment, the Berkeley Police Association announced that Kacalek was taking a leave of absence as the group's leader.

In a statement, acting union president Sgt. Scott Castle, said the association supports "an independent and thorough investigation."

He said Kacalek's alleged text messages "undermine trust and confidence. ... We want the public to know that messages of this type are not reflective of the entire body of officers who work night and day to protect the citizens of Berkeley."

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