The McFarland community has had difficulty trusting the local police department; however, the new Chief of Police has plans to change that.
Kenny Williams is the new elected Police Chief of McFarland. He started the job in February. He was born and raised in Bakersfield, California, and he is a Bakersfield High School alumnus. Although he was originally a cabinet maker, he later went into the police academy after taking a ride with his older brother, who was a deputy in Los Angeles county.
Kern Sol News reached out to Kenny Williams to learn more about his goals and vision for the McFarland Police Department. This interview has been edited for clarity and length.
Q: What is your history in law enforcement?
A: I put myself in police academy and graduated in 1982. I went to go work for the Kern County Sheriff’s office. I worked there for right about 29 and a half years, and when I retired, I was a commander in charge of the homicide detective division at homicide, sexual assault, property crimes, role crime taskforce, and technical investigations. I got to do a lot of neat things. I worked undercover in narcotics for nine years. In 2011, I retired and went to Cal State Bakersfield to the police department they have there and did that for nine years. Then, I saw the opening in McFarland, and I spoke to some people I knew. It looks like it was a place that they were trying to change the reputation they had. I talked to several people who gave me an insight on what they wanted to do with the police department and make it a better place and make sure that we had good ethics and good morals.
Q: McFarland has a history of negative experiences with police officers, such as extreme violence or not showing up when being called. How will your leadership and personal vision benefit the citizens of McFarland?
A: Well I think my vision has a lot to do with law enforcement agencies that are mandated ethically and morally sound. If you’re not, that’s when the problems start. When it comes to my vision for the department, it really bases around that proponent of ethics and morals. There is something called the social contract theory, and it has to do with the community giving us the ability to take someone’s freedom away, like arrest them, search their houses for certain reasons, at times we can take a human life if the situation dictates, but the expectation from the community is that we will uphold our end of that social contract by being transparent and abiding by ethics and morals. We have to maintain that standard and if we don’t, that social contract is not held to where it needs to be held to. Then, you have problems with community support. They begin to not trust you and question you and your ethics. My vision and my goal has to do with making sure that we uphold our end of that side of the social contract and making sure that we are transparent with our ethics and morals, and that we are looked as a legitimate law enforcement agency.
Q: McFarland also has a reputation of hiring officers with questionable records, so how do you plan to gain back the community trust?
A: There’s many things we’re going to have to do, and it goes with that ethical component because if you don’t have that as your foundation, then whatever you do is not going to be successful. Ethics and morals are going to be extremely important in what we do. Unfortunately for McFarland and the police department here, we’ve had some issues in our history. When you look at that, it leaves a black eye on our agency because everybody looks and says look at those police officers who have issues. Because of that, a normal police department ethics can be lower, but in McFarland, because of the questions that we have, our ethical behavior and morals have to be higher than anybody else’s.
And the reason why is because when they look at us, they’re going to immediately suspect, “Hey, they’re the old agency,” and that’s not the case. When you look at that, some of the things we have to ensure is hiring the right people. That means we have to do extremely good testing, and we have to do extremely good backgrounds. We have to make sure that the people we hire in our agency are above board, and that they don’t have any issues.
The other thing that we have to do is we have to do something called trust and verify. When we get our agency, our people hired, and get them out on the street, we have to train them to be successful and to be ethically and morally sound. Then, we have to trust them, but we have to verify what they’re doing is what they should be doing that’s based on good ethics and morals. Then, we have to make sure that we have good policies and procedures.
We also have to establish the correct police culture. Obviously I’m going to be the guiding person in that. I have to be able to tell people and show people I would like them to communicate and how I would like them to behave. When it comes to individuals and how our officers operate, if they operate in a fashion that’s not acceptable, then we have to hold them accountable. If we don’t hold them accountable, that’s the new way that they believe they can behave so there’s a component of accountability and then transparency.
And then, professionalism. When I look at that, the things that I immediately think about when it comes to professionalism is treating people with respect and letting them have their dignity. I don’t care if that’s a person we meet on the street or the person we arrest. It’s that when we leave that individual, they should have their dignity. That’s mutual respect.
Then, making sure that our public has a voice. We want you to be heard and the public to be heard and the community members to be heard because you folks live here in the community. You probably know what some of the problems are here and what some of the best solutions are, so we want to have you to have a voice.
Then we have to have some method to foster good trustworthiness between us and the community. And some of those methods being holding people accountable and being transparent will help us in that method.
Q: What do you plan to prioritize as Police Chief in McFarland?
A: My priority number one is making sure that we have good collaboration with our community. The underlying component of that is obviously that component of ethics and morals and making sure that those are sound. It’s tied in with that collaboration. I know one of those things that’s occurred here in the past year and a half or so is that we’ve had this flux of different, temporary chiefs in this place, so I need to stabilize that as one of those but that goes back to being able to stabilize and collaborate with the public so that we can get the support from the public. Also, that we’re cooperating in a fashion that allows for people to do their job but still be held accountable for their actions.
Q: What do you hope to accomplish in McFarland?
A: Well, I don’t know how much longer I’m going to work, but I can tell you that I’ll be here for a period of time long enough to see the police department thrive. My personal goal is to make sure that the police department is successful for the long run. I want to make sure that even when I leave here, there is continuity for success and a roadmap for success. It’s not necessarily about me being the best, but it’s about me making my people better and getting them to grow. They have their own aspirations, and it’s up to me to support them.
Q: The department had former police who have had events like coffee with cops and other community events to bridge relationships between the community and the department. Are you planning on doing any community initiatives and if so, what do you have in mind?A: We’re going to do all of those and more. We’re going to do as many as we can. That allows the community to see us and bond with us and collaborate with us and see that we’re part of the human race. We’re going to start next Saturday, March 20. We’re going to have an Easter basket drive-thru pass out at McFarland Park between 3-5 p.m. We encourage all the community to come out and bring their kids. In April, we’re hoping to have a similar one where you can meet all the officers at the police department because there’s new officers here, including myself. I want the public to be able to meet them, see who they are, be able to converse with them, and get to know them as well. Also, we want to develop a program for cadets in our police department. We want to look and see if we can have some school resource officers too. It’ll help us reach out to the youth organizations and youth groups, so we can bond better with our community.