Sacramento appoints first female police chief

Local News

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (KTXL) — Sacramento is hiring its first female police chief following Chief Daniel Hahn’s announcement that he would be retiring at the end of this year.

Friday, Sacramento announced the city manager appointed Deputy Chief Kathy Lester as the 46th chief of police.

“I am humbled by this appointment and by the opportunity to serve our residents in this role,” Lester said. “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.”

Lester, a 27-year veteran of the department, started with Sacramento police in 1994 as a dispatcher. Since then, the city said she has headed multiple divisions for the department.

“She has led the Contracts Services Division, 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,” city officials wrote in Friday’s release.

Lester will become the first woman to head the Sacramento Police Department in its 172-year history.

“I don’t know if the same thing happens in other cities, but I can tell you I was put on a path here, had a lot of mentoring, had a lot of coaches, and was given the right types of professional opportunities to get me here,” she said. “I think that’s something that the city should really be commended for, as well as the police department.”

Back in 2014, when Lester was monitoring the department’s recruiting efforts, she spoke with FOX40 about the racial disparities within Sacramento’s police force.

“We need to increase our applicant pool in order to get more people through the process,” she said at the time.

Lester said part of the problem was that recruiting was being hampered by the lack of trust for police and the recruiting pool.

“When you have an officer who’s responding to your home and they look like you and understand you, you will be more comfortable with that officer,” she said.

Lester’s family has lived in Sacramento for generations, the city wrote.

She previously served in the Army as an interpreter, combat medic and range master.

“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,” said Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg. “I know she will be terrific in this position and continue the high standards set by Chief Hahn.”

She follows another first: the city’s first Black police chief. Chief Hahn announced his retirement in August.

“I’m sure, maybe the sexy story would be some sort of scandal or I’m getting fired or anything. The real answer is it’s time,” Hahn said the day after his announcement. “I’ve been a police officer for 34 years, police chief for 10 years, and it was a good time not only for me but I think for this department.”

Hahn presided over the department during some tumultuous times, including the aftermath of the 2018 officer-involved shooting death of Stephon Clark and the unrest in the streets following the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis.

Back in August, the Clark family issued statements in response to Hahn’s decision to retire.

True leaders uphold accountability and delegate responsibility. The city of Sacramento deserves a chief that is for the people and not politics or power. Stephon Clark; The Unarmed Truth deserves justice. The city manager, the chief of police, the district attorney, and the attorney general have all failed on not some levels but all levels.

Hopefully, whoever replaces him will do what’s right and deliver the justice that is needed. The Sacramento Police Department and all of it’s field officers should be able to differentiate between a gun and a cell phone. Anytime someone makes a mistake to the degree that a law must be created; those people should be held accountable to the highest extent of the law.

Stevonte Clark, brother of Stephon Clark

“I am not going to ever sit there and say that policing across America is easy, especially in the heighten time that we are in,” community activist Berry Accius said. 

Accius hopes transparency and police accountability increases under Lester’s leadership. He also hopes she listens to everyone regardless of whether they support her. 

“We still truly don’t have the accountability and transparency that we are looking for here in policing. We are going to challenge this new chief to make sure when officers do get out of line she puts them back in line or fires them,” Accius said. 

Other than policing, Accius hopes the department can figure out a way to curve the uptick in violence and guns. 

“The first woman chief, just like it was the first Black chief, you get that excitement, but we don’t want symbolic gesture of progress; we want really want true progress to happen,” Accius said. 

The newly-appointed chief didn’t say what her priorities will be but said her current priority is to help Chief Hahn finish the job.

“I appreciate the work that we’re doing,” Lester said. “I think we are on the cutting edge of modernizing police practices and making the public safe, and we’re going to continue to do those things.”

The city said before hiring Lester, it posted a survey about the qualities the community wanted to see in the next police chief. It received roughly 1,700 responses.

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