Meet the Not-So-New Police Chief On the Block, Chief Washington
In March 2021, Police Chief Kimberly Petersen announced her retirement after 25 years of service. An announcement like this may be startling for other communities, especially in today’s climate. Police Chiefs who are understanding, compassionate, driven, unbiased, and open to change are hard to come by.
Luckily for the Fremont Police Department, we had a clear and qualified candidate who exceeded these requirements and was ready to fulfill this role.
Meet Acting Chief Sean Washington – a face that should not be new to our Fremont residents. He’s been with the Fremont Police Department for the last 24 years and has played an active role in our community from coaching youth basketball at Washington High School to coordinating the Northern California Special Olympics.
We spoke with Acting Chief Sean Washington to learn more about who he is, his values, and his vision for the Fremont Police Department.
Q: Let’s go back to the beginning— when did you come to Fremont and what sparked your interest in becoming a police officer?
A: First and foremost, I am a husband and father. I have a 12-year-old daughter who is the absolute light of my life. Being from Los Angeles, I am a huge sports fan, and I still love rooting for the Dodgers and the Lakers – I hope you all can forgive me. It was actually my love for sports that brought me to the Bay. I had the opportunity to play basketball in college for Cal State Hayward, and I just fell in love with the area and the community.
As for my interest in policing, my father worked for the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department for 31 years. In that time, he delivered professional and fair law enforcement. Witnessing the impact he made on our local community and how he respectfully communicated with them in response to the Rodney King riots gave me the spark to pursue policing as my career.
Q: On the road to becoming a Captain and now a Police Chief, you’ve fulfilled a range of positions. Can you share more about your previous roles, and how they impacted you?
A: I’ve held many positions including being a field training officer, responsible for training new officers to uphold Fremont’s standards; a detective, specializing in sexual assaults; a driving instructor, who ensured that our personnel were competent driving in emergency situations; and an arrest and control self-defense instructor, who taught officers how to appropriately apply the right amount of force to control a subject without injuring them. With each role, I tried to get the most diverse perspective possible so that I could best represent the people of Fremont.
However, the most important work I have done has been in the community, from being a mentor to kids to organizing a community-based safety fair. Engaging with the community gives me a sense of purpose as well as the opportunity to learn more about the people I am serving.
Q: How do you plan to continue Chief Petersen’s legacy?
A: I have had the incredible opportunity to stand on the shoulders of great leaders. Chief Petersen was such a valuable mentor for me, especially as the first woman to lead the Department. She challenged me to become the best leader I could be, and I hope to achieve the standard she set.
While I plan to continue many of Chief Petersen’s initiatives, one that I am particularly passionate about is community engagement. For example, last summer, Chief Petersen responded to evolving community expectations to reform policing in nationwide police departments by hosting a virtual town hall which was attended by over 800 community members. This conversation led to Department-wide changes including expanding partnerships with social service agencies, reducing use of force, and prioritizing de-escalation, crisis intervention, and implicit bias training. I think this serves as a great example of how FPD and community can work together to make productive changes, and I hope to continue these community-wide efforts as Chief.
Q: What are your values and vision for the Fremont Police Department?
A: One of my favorite philosophies is from Sir Robert Peel, and it essentially says that we police with the consent of the people. It’s a partnership between all of us to keep our community safe. It really embodies what I think about policing. It is a community effort that relies on responsibility to keep everyone safe.
Although I have a formal vision, it isn’t my individual vision. It is the result of community conversations and discussions that I have had (more on that later). From my conversations, I’ve established six main goals: enhance relationships, trust, and police legitimacy, increase organizational efficiency, conduct a comprehensive review of policies and procedures so that our Department can continue setting a gold-standard for policing, invest in staffing and professional development, enhance employee wellness initiatives and lastly, build partnerships that help achieve our overall City initiatives.
Q: What do you think are some of the greatest challenges facing police departments today?
A: Police officers and departments need to build mutual trust with their community. Being a police officer is a difficult task, and our officers put their lives on the line every day to protect our community. But these aren’t the stories we often share or hear about when it comes to police.
Just a few weeks ago, our gun violence reduction team located a youth with an assault rifle with over 100 rounds of ammo. Because of our officers’ attentiveness, we were able to keep our community safe and provide this individual with the help they needed. We hope by sharing more examples like this, we will be able to build a stronger sense of trust in our programs and our officers.
Q: What are you doing to get to know Fremont residents and the surrounding community?
A: Over the last several months, I have hosted a series of community conversations and listening sessions alongside Mayor Mei with Fremont residents, business owners and operators, and nonprofit organization. These small settings have been instrumental in creating an open environment for community members to ask questions and share their feedback.
By attending these sessions and interacting with the community through virtual and in-person events, I have been able to better connect with the community. I hope with this knowledge that I will be able to faithfully represent our diverse community.
Chief Sean Washington will be formally sworn in as Police Chief in October. For information on his future speaking events, subscribe to The Fremont Police Department’s Nixle account.