24 Aug Antioch City Council Will Control Hiring, Firing of Police Chiefs
During a fraught time for Antioch Police Department, City Council has decided to take control of determining who holds its top spot. (Screenshot captured by Samantha Kennedy / Richmond Pulse)
By Samantha Kennedy
At its Tuesday meeting, the council voted 3-2 to control the hiring, firing and evaluation of the city’s police chief. Council members Lori Ogorchock and Michael Barbanica voted against.
The vote transfers power from the city manager to the City Council, which will allow the city to provide better oversight of the department. The ordinance will go into effect 90 days after its second reading.
Mayor Lamar Thorpe said previous councils failed to provide the proper oversight of the police department, resulting in the current state of the department.
“We are owning our responsibility today to ensure that you as residents have a police department that represents you,” Thorpe said.
The decision to transfer power from the city manager to the council was not sudden. In 2021, after the in-custody death of Angelo Quinto in 2020, Thorpe said reforms to the police department were initiated. Within two years, the department went through five police chiefs, but nothing seemed to change.
“We decided that we wanted an open process to hire the new police chief,” Thorpe said. “We wanted the community involved in the process.”
Though Antioch’s police chief and city manager positions are vacant, Thorpe said an interim police chief is being hired.
Steven Ford retired Aug. 11, nearly eight months after he was elevated from interim to permanent police chief. The acting chief is Joe Vigil. The previous city manager, Cornelius Johnson, was suspended in March before ultimately resigning. The acting city manager is Kwame Reed.
Barbanica, a retired police officer, and Ogorchock said the transfer of power could politicize the department. Barbanica said the department could be used as a “political arm of the city” should the change happen, and that he would prefer a buffer between the council and the police department.
Thorpe said the current buffer between the department and the council is part of the reason why the council struggles to hold the department accountable. That buffer, he said, has left the council unaware of how the current FBI investigation into Antioch officers is going.
“The residents of this community have demanded the change that we’re making here today, if the council continues to go in this direction, because for decades, residents … have allowed this council to get away with murder,” Thorpe said. “Absolute murder and failure to provide oversight.”
Both Mayor pro tem Tamisha Torres-Walker and council member Monica Wilson said they were initially unsure of their position on this item but decided to support it.
Torres-Walker said the ordinance could include language that would transfer power back to the city manager once a certain event happened. Once a permanent city manager was hired, Torres-Walker suggested, the power would be transferred back to the city manager.
Despite support from Wilson, the council did not include a triggering event that would transfer power back to the city manager. The council is allowed to introduce new language into the ordinance at a later time.
The next Antioch City Council meeting is Sept. 12.