EXCLUSIVE: Antioch police chief calls texting scandal 'hate speech;' open to federal oversight

ByAnser Hassan KGO logo
Wednesday, May 3, 2023
EXCLUSIVE: Antioch PD chief calls texting scandal 'hate speech'
Antioch Police Chief Steven Ford responds to texting scandal, saying "without question this is hate speech."

ANTIOCH, Calif. (KGO) -- Just one year into the job, Antioch Police Chief Steven Ford is in a tough spot. Dealing with the fallout of an FBI investigation into his department and a racist texting scandal - both of which began before he joined the force.

When asked, "Do you think the Antioch police department has a problem with racism?" Chief Ford responded, "I am going to say that it is clear now that we know certain officers participated in certain behavior. I have to believe in my heart of hearts that that does not reflect the entire organization."

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Chief Ford says he was "very disappointed" after reading the text messages. "As I have stated before, and certainly as you wrap your head around what was stated, it is very hurtful. You know, without question - that is hate speech. Let's just be clear. There is no need to sugarcoat what that is," said Ford.

In April, the Contra Costa County District Attorney's office released two reports that revealed a chain of racist, misogynistic, and homophobic text messages sent by Antioch police officers over a period of almost two years. Some senior ranking officers took part as well. Chief Ford says this issue goes beyond the culture of the department.

"Right now, I'm doing a deep dive into the psychology of the organization. And really trying to recalibrate it, so it is much better aligned with what the public expects. This is about the public's expectation," says Ford.

He says a wider criminal, and an external investigation in the department's internal affairs, are both underway. He hopes the investigation will reveal why this behavior went unchecked for so long and why no one tried to put a stop to it.

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"Any organization, you have breakdowns like this, there are two things that are apparent. A lack of accountability and I think there is an undercurrent of neglect that has taken place," says Ford. "Now if we are talking about this kind of behavior permeating the chain of command, that is a much deeper, deeper issue. That's a much deeper issue, that really the higher-ups in the organization have to atone for and account for."

The Contra Costa County Public Defender's Office estimates that 40 percent of the police department may have been involved in the texting scandal. Currently, 38 of the department's 99 officers are on leave.

Then, there was this exchange:

Reporter: Can the Antioch police department effectively do its job right now?

Chief Ford: Absolutely. So the $64,000 question, two weeks ago was, do we have the personnel to at least handle calls for service? And we do.

Reporter: But aside from personnel, what about the mindset?

Chief Ford: Absolutely, again, the necessary processes are in place, the officers who have been implicated...

Reporter: But, with all due respect, they have always been in place. The laws have always been there.

Chief Ford: That is true.

Reporter: And people have worked outside of those laws.

Chief Ford: That is true. This is not just germane to the Antioch Police Department. This is an issue that I think American policing really needs to do a deep dive and make some systemic changes. But circling back to this organization, again, can the Antioch PD, police this city in a fair, consistent and transparent way? We have no choice.

VIDEO: 'Disgusting': Alleged Antioch PD racist texts addressed as tensions flare at city council meeting

At least two people had to be escorted out of the meeting after a back-and-forth with the Antioch mayor over the alleged racist and homophobic text messages of around two dozen police officers.

According to Ford, change is already underway with new policies and procedures being implemented around the use of force, the use of the police dog, and the department's cellphone policies.

He adds he is open to federal oversight if the investigation determines such an outcome. He says what comes next is about rebuilding the police force and rebuilding trust with the community. Finally, Chief Ford says he will move the department forward.

"At some point, the organization has to move forward. It has to move forward. There is no way we can sit in this state of apathy and truthfully, depression. Can't sit here in this seat much longer. We have to start to pull ourselves up by the bootstraps and be intentional about the community. And prove to the community that we are not the organization that we appear to be."

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