By Steven Tavares

Sandra Spagnoli will become San Leandro’s first female police chief, the city announced Monday, replacing the retiring Ian Willis. Spagnoli, who spent the past four years as head of the Benicia police department, will begin her tenure Jan. 10.

Sandra Spagnoli

“I am extremely honored to be selected as San Leandro’s next police chief,” said Spagnoli. “I am committed to building on the existing traditions of excellence and working in partnership with the community to continue to enhance levels of service, safety and security.”

San Leandro City Manager Stephen Hollister said Spagnoli impressed community leaders and hiring panels and is confident she will uphold the city reputation for public safety.

The selection of Spagnoli comes three months after current Police Chief Ian Willis announced his retirement. She becomes San Leandro’s 10th police chief and first female chief in its history. She is also the city’s third chief in as many years, following Dale Attarian and Willis.

Rumors of Hollister’s preference in hiring a female for the post has persisted for months after the police department waded in a spate of sexual harrassment suits, led by a complaint by seven female police officers against the a male officer and implicating then-chief Attarian. Four of the seven plaintiffs settled with the city last year for $405,000, while the last three with potenitally larger monetary settlements have yet to be resolved. (Read ‘Women do not belong in police work’ – May 17, 2010.)

Spagnoli , 43, became a police officer in 1990 and spent the past four years as head of the Benicia Police Department after spending time with the San Carlos police force. She began her stint in San Carlos at age 16 as a police explorer before taking the top job in Benicia in 2007. Spagnoli takes over a department in San Leandro which is more than double the size of Benicia’s 37 officers. Benicia’s police force also lacks a single female officer among its ranks.