Police to outsource investigations of any officer-involved shootings

A new agreement with the City of Piedmont for the Alameda County Sheriff’s Office to provide forensic services at major crime scenes includes a significant procedural change from years past — the Sheriff’s Office, and not the Piedmont Police Department, will conduct investigations of any future officer-involved shootings and in-custody deaths.

This change was part of a new “memo of understanding” agreement with the Sheriff’s Office approved unanimously by the City Council Monday night. The new agreement runs through Dec. 31, 2022.

The City of Piedmont has, for many years, had agreements calling for the Sheriff’s Office to provide forensic services including crime scene processing, evidence collection, technical advice and forensic consultation, and for mutual aid response for critical incidents within Piedmont, as needed. Most aspects of previous agreements will continue.

The most recent such “memo of understanding” agreement expired in March.

The shift away from potentially tasking Piedmont officers with investigating their own officer-involved shootings and in-custody deaths is crucial, Piedmont police Chief Jeremy Bowers said, for two primary reasons. Piedmont, being a small department, doesn’t have the resources for large-scale investigations such as a homicide investigation, which requires significant expertise.

“These investigations are very complex and multifaceted,” Bowers told the council.

Also, Bowers said it isn’t optimal for officers within a small department to investigate a case that involves colleagues, or even possibly themselves.

“It just puts our people in an untenable position,” said Bowers, noting the city would repay the Sheriff’s Office for any expenses.

The Alameda County District Attorney’s Office will continue to be part of such investigations.

Councilwoman Betsy Smegal Andersen said the change is the right one to make. “I hope we never, ever have to use this, but I’m glad we’re doing it.”

Council approves public works director contract

Also on Monday night, the council approved a contract with Daniel Gonzales to be the city’s new public works director, taking over for the retiring Chester Nakahara.

Gonzales, 38, was chosen from among more than 30 candidates to succeed Nakahara, who in August announced his retirement after 10 years as public works director and 23 years as a city employee.

Gonzales, who will start Jan. 11, will earn a starting salary of $180,000 a year, plus benefits.

City Administrator Sara Lillevand was one of several Piedmont officials who said they believe they landed a good one in Gonzales.

“I don’t think I’ve ever received the sort of compliments after the process has concluded than I did about Daniel,” she said. 

Also on Monday, the council formally named Nancy Kent, Piedmont’s parks and projects manager, to serve as the city’s interim public works director until Gonzales starts.

Gonzales, who was on Monday’s virtual Zoom meeting, said he knows he’s got a “difficult act to follow” taking over for Nakahara, but that he plans to keep up Piedmont’s high standards for its streets, parks and other infrastructure.

One of the first orders of business at Monday night’s meeting was a formal farewell to Nakahara. Vice Mayor Tim Rood called his departure “the end of an era, totally.”  Andersen said, “The aura about you is that everything’s going to be OK … and then it is.”

Dave Frankel, who retired in 2019 as a Piedmont public works supervisor, echoed that observation, adding that he didn’t always share Nakahara’s calm approach.

“You would always bring perspective to whatever was lighting me up at the time,” Frankel told Nakahara.

Nakahara, for his part, accepted the praise in a humble manner, and in turn uplifted his present and past employees, crediting them for “working tirelessly, and in relative silence.” He also thanked his wife of 46 years, Megan, for her endless support as he tended to city business. Nakahara said he’s now have more time to restore his 2002 BMW, and that he’ll continue to be a presence around town.

Mayor Teddy Gray King offered her own kind words, too. “Piedmont looks the way it does — a real jewel in the East Bay — because of Chester Nakahara.” 

Contact Sam Richards at sam.richards4344@gmail.com

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