California Police Chief- Fall 2013 - Page 10

Oxnard Chief ‘Owns It’ Jeri Williams faces the biggest test of her career following tragic officer-involved shooting The call came in at 10:22 on a Saturday night. As she normally is at that time, Oxnard Police Chief Jeri Williams was asleep. After all, being responsible for roughly 400 sworn and civilian employees and an annual operating budget of more than $50 million can be a tiring job. It was the call every police chief hates to get: There’s been an officer-involved shooting. When the details emerged, Williams, 47, had a particularly ugly OIS on her hands: One of two men killed in a shootout with officers after they fled following a traffic stop turned out to be a man uninvolved in the incident. The Ventura County District Attorney’s Office continues to investigate the double-shooting, as well as the Office of Independent Review and the Ventura County Sheriff’s Department. The D.A. is also looking into another Oxnard OIS that happened in mid-August. In that incident, police shot and killed a 36-year-old man they said was waving a gun in a threatening manner. When Williams got the call about the Oct. 13 double-shooting, she had an immediate thought: Own this. “When things are going well, it’s important for me as chief to put the officers out in front to take credit. When things are going bad, my job as leader of this department is to say, ‘Look, we made a mistake.’’’ 10 | Behind The Badge For the veteran cop who spent 22 years in law enforcement in Arizona before being named Oxnard’s first female police chief in January 2011, the shooting would prove to be her biggest challenge ever. But, with a philosophy she urges all chiefs to have, she knew she had to “get in front of the story” and be as transparent as possible with the public and her own PD. “If you don’t make the decision to be transparent,” Williams says, “someone will make the decision for you.” Adds the chief: “When things are going well, it’s important for me as chief to put the officers out in front to take credit. When things are going bad, my job as leader of this department is to say, ‘Look, we made a mistake.’’’ That’s what Williams copped to at a news conference assembled soon after the doubleshootings, which prompted protests in the historically troubled La Colonia section of the city. Spring 2013 | 11