Home News Sacramento selects first female Police Chief to lead Department

Sacramento selects first female Police Chief to lead Department

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Source: Sacramento Police Department


Rosalio Ahumada

The Sacramento Bee

Kathy Lester, a 27-year veteran of the Sacramento Police Department, has been named as the agency’s 46th police chief. She is the first woman selected for the post.

Sacramento City Manager Howard Chan chose to promote the deputy chief of operations to lead the department of 1,100 employees — more than 700 of which are sworn officers — after a nationwide search in the wake of Chief Daniel Hahn’s announcement he would retire this month after a four-year tenure.

“I am thrilled that Kathy has accepted this opportunity to continue to serve her community in this new capacity,” Chan said Friday in a city news release. “During her time with the Sacramento Police Department, she has proven herself to be a dynamic leader with an unwavering commitment to diversity, equity, accountability and innovation. There is no one better to serve in this role and to continue the ongoing efforts of the department and its outstanding employees.”

Lester began working for the Police Department in 1994 as a dispatcher. She became a community service officer in 1995 and was sworn-in as an officer in 1996. She’s worked as a patrol and traffic officer, along with jobs in recruiting, internal affairs, criminal intelligence. She’s also served as an executive lieutenant in the North Patrol Command.

“I am humbled by this appointment and by the opportunity to serve our residents in this role,” Lester said in the news release. “I joined the Sacramento Police Department because of its reputation for community-based policing, and that spirit of community and collaboration has long been instilled in me. I look forward to continuing the ongoing work by the Sacramento Police Department to make our city a place where everyone feels safe, secure and protected.”

The City Manager’s Office asked Sacramento residents to participate in an online survey, asking them what characteristics are most important for the next leader of the Police Department. The survey closed in late October.

Chan told The Sacramento Bee his office received about 1,700 responses to the survey, and accountability and transparency topped most lists from residents. He said a hiring firm, tasked with compiling a list of candidates for the job, was provided the results of the survey to consider in its search.

But Chan wanted a wide variety of people to choose from, telling the hiring firm “get me as many candidates as you can,” Chan said during an interview last month with The Bee.

The city manager said he was looking for someone who will continue in the direction Hahn was taking the department, diversifying its ranks, getting officers to “buy-in” to reforms and expanding various accountability and transparency initiatives.

“Our national recruitment for this position yielded several viable candidates, but by the end of the process, it was clear that Kathy was the hands-down best choice,” Chan said in the news release. “When it came to possessing the top qualities expressed in the community survey, she hit all the marks. She also has incomparable operational experience and incredibly strong relationships with both her fellow officers and the communities she serves.”

Lester has managed the Contracts Services Division, the Personnel and Fiscal Division, the Downtown Patrol Command, the Division of Outreach and Engagement and Police Services for the Sacramento City Unified School District. She also has overseen the Office of Specialized Services.

Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg said one of Hahn’s strengths was his connection to Sacramento, but that connection shouldn’t be a deal-breaker for the next candidate. He wanted the next police chief to continue to modernize the department, embrace transparency and focus on racial equity, like Hahn did. Someone with their own style but the same qualities.

” Kathy Lester is not just a home-grown talent and a historic appointment; she is 100 percent the right person to lead this department at this time, displaying an unparalleled breadth of experience as well as the values critical to our communities,” Steinberg said in the news release. “I know she will be terrific in this position and continue the high standards set by Chief Hahn.”

Lester earned a bachelor’s degree in government and international relations from Sacramento State University and a master’s degree in geosciences from Mississippi State University.

City officials said Lester’s family has lived in Sacramento for multiple generations. Before joining the Sacramento Police Department, Lester served in the Army and attended the Defense Language Institute in Monterey, where she became fluent in Russian and later worked as a military interpreter, combat medic and range master.

Hahn announced in August he was retiring at the end of his 34th year in law enforcement. He was hired in August 2017. Hahn, a Sacramento native, was the city’s first Black police chief.

Sonia Lewis, with Liberation For Black Sacramento, had hoped the next police chief would come from another city; someone who could provide a fresh perspective and bring “true change” to the Police Department. Lewis said she also had high hopes for Hahn, but she believes the police chief wasn’t allowed to root out “bad apples” in the department’s ranks.

Lewis said the Police Department is over-funded, and city money needs to be diverted to youth programs that can prevent youth from turning to criminal activity. She also believes lasting change at the Police Department has to come from the mayor and city manager.

“It doesn’t matter who you put in as chief, they’re not the boss,” Lewis told The Bee.

Hahn disagrees, saying the police chief has a significant amount of influence within and outside the criminal justice system. Not necessarily influencing publicly or politically, he said, but working with community partners on issues including housing and racial equity. He said in an interview in October that he hoped the next police chief feels the same way.

“As police chief in the capital city of California, you can influence those sort of things,” Hahn told The Bee. “I have often talked about, even before I was police chief, if we need a hundred officers and the way to get there is to reduce the parks and recreation budget, that’s not a good idea because so many things play a role into public safety in our community.”

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