Search Begins for Interim Police Chief

The search is on for an Interim Police Chief for the Beverly Hills Police Department (BHPD), with the announcement that Sandra Spagnoli will retire from the position effective May 15, 2020. 

In the April 25 statement announcing Spagnoli’s retirement, City Manager George Chavez noted: 

“During the Chief’s tenure, crime was reduced while the department increased diversity, public outreach, best practices and advancements in technology,” said Chavez. “We thank Chief Spagnoli for her service to our community and her three decades of public service in law enforcement.” 

The retirement came as a surprise to some members of Spagnoli’s 25-person Advisory Panel.

“We were in a teleconference with the Chief on the Wednesday before the announcement. It was business as usual. We discussed a variety of topics, such as the protection of the City, helping senior citizens, helping with business openings. She was organized and attentive, as she always was in these meetings. Her departure is a huge loss for the City,” Panel member Laurie Ackerman told the Courier. 

According to Beverly Hills City Attorney Laurence S. Wiener, Spagnoli will be entitled to her full pension. 

Spagnoli joined the BHPD in February of 2016 from the City of San Leandro, where she served as Chief since 2011. Although her retirement is effective May 15, she is currently taking time off and will not return to the department. Assistant Police Chief Marc Coopwood, Spagnoli’s second in command, is Acting Police Chief at this time. Coopwood is a 25-year law enforcement veteran and former Sacramento Police Department captain who joined the BHPD a year after Spagnoli’s hiring. He will serve as Acting Chief until an Interim Chief is appointed. 

Sources close to the department told the Courier that no decision has been made as to who will be Interim Chief. It may be Coopwood. After the Interim Chief is in place, the City will then turn its attention to the search for a new Chief, but it may not be right away. The timetable for the selection process is unknown at this point. But, it will likely involve a national recruitment campaign and interview process over the course of several months. 

Spagnoli’s Legacy 

Spagnoli acquired vocal supporters during her four-year stint as Chief and grabbed headlines for resolving cases such as the Nessah Synagogue vandalism. But, her tenure was also marked by controversy. Some 14 plaintiffs have filed civil lawsuits accusing Spagnoli of racist, anti-Semitic and homophobic remarks, among other malfeasance. Over the course of the last few years, some plaintiffs have received well-publicized judgments and monetary settlements; others have not. A few cases are awaiting trial. And some individuals who did not file Superior Court civil actions chose instead to file complaints before the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing. 

The net result is a monetary outlay by the City of many millions of dollars in settlements, judgments and defense attorney’s fees, according to documents reviewed by the Courier. And, that doesn’t include fees for independent consultants brought in on behalf of the department during Spagnoli’s stint as Chief. Those fees include $60,000 paid to the crisis management firm Sitrick and Company between late 2018 and early 2019. 

Attorney Bradley C. Gage, who filed a case involving Spagnoli as recently as March 30, described her as “an economic disaster.” 

Gage has collected more than $7.5 million dollars for his clients with complaints against Spagnoli alleging discrimination, harassment and retaliation. He believes the City is now at an important crossroads in its selection of the next Chief. 

“It’s nice that the City got rid of Spagnoli. But, they need to totally clean house. Her henchmen are still there. And if they are allowed to retaliate, then I think you’re going to see a lot more litigation. I’ve already been approached by a lot of people,” Gage told the Courier. 

Ackerman sees it differently. “She inherited a broken department and put it back together. She reformed a morale problem. There was a great sense of camaraderie, and she brought in some fine people. She was politicized and can hold her head up high.” 


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