Lyle Martin was sworn in Wednesday as chief of the Bakersfield Police Department in a ceremony congratulating him on his leadership qualities and the work the department has accomplished over the years, but also touching on controversies involving recent police shootings.
Upon becoming chief, moments after the badge was pinned to his chest, Martin looked out at the packed city council chambers and said he was humbled by both the number and different backgrounds of the people in attendance.
"What kind of chief will I be?" Martin said. "Look around me."
He then noted the number of police, attorneys, businessmen and community advocates sitting in the room. He said he will represent all residents, of all different walks of life and he is dedicated to improving service throughout the community.
That includes meeting with various community partners and implementing a new strategic plan for 2017-2020. It also, he said, involves addressing education.
"Research shows that individuals with a higher level of education and gainful employment have fewer negative contacts with police," Martin said. "It's a fact."
He said he recently spoke with Bakersfield City School District Superintendent Harry "Doc" Ervin, and plans to speak with others, about what can be done to keep kids in school.
Martin thanked his family, friends and mentors, both in and outside the department, for making him who he is today. He reserved special comment for his wife, Connie.
"I could not do what I do for this community without her support," he said.
Martin replaces Greg Williamson, who has retired after a 28-year career in the BPD, serving as chief since 2010.
Martin was born and raised in southeast Bakersfield near Madison Street and Watts Drive. His father, Herbert Martin, was a barber, and his mother, Edith, taught elementary school. He has two siblings, Herbert Jr. and Marche.
He is a father of five, and has six grandchildren. He joined the BPD in September 1988 at the age of 21.
City Manager Alan Tandy, who chose Martin as chief after the field of candidates was narrowed to three, said Williamson's tenure occurred during some of the most difficult circumstances imaginable. And things aren't about to get easier.
Addressing both local shootings and protests and the national attitude toward police, Tandy said it's never been more difficult for law enforcement. He said other levels of government are releasing criminals early, some felonies are being reduced to misdemeanors and the national media is in a frenzy bashing police.
He then referenced recent shootings of unarmed men, both in Los Angeles and Bakersfield.
"Mistakes in matters of life and death are unacceptable. Period."
Holding up an article by the Los Angeles Times, Tandy noted the city of Los Angeles will pay more than $8 million to settle lawsuits over the deaths of three unarmed men killed by police.
Tandy then held up Wednesday's article in The Californian regarding the death of 73-year-old Francisco Serna, shot and killed by a Bakersfield police officer early Monday. Witnesses reported they believed Serna was armed, but no weapon was found on his body.
The millions of dollars cities pay for police shootings impact everyone, Tandy said. There's less money for staffing, less money to pay for new equipment. Ultimately, everyone suffers.
But Tandy said he believes Martin is the right person for the job.
"First, I don't know why you want this job," Tandy said, eliciting laughs from the audience. "But I'm glad that you do."
Williamson called Martin a "man of character," and said the city is in good hands.
But some have questioned the BPD's response to officer-involved shootings, claiming the department has not done enough to properly train officers, and does not hold those involved in shootings accountable.
Late Wednesday afternoon, a group of about two dozen people, some members of Faith in Action, some family members of people killed by Bakersfield police, demanded change. Among its proposals is that outside agencies investigate shootings by Kern law enforcement.
Joey Williams, a Faith in Action organizer, said he doesn't trust police agencies to investigate themselves, and he doesn't have much confidence the new administration will enact changes he said the community needs.
The investigation into Serna's shooting is ongoing.