By Steven Tavares

New San Leandro Police Chief
Sandra Spagnoli

Sandra Spagnoli’s first day at the helm of the San Leandro Police Department started at 6:30 a.m. this morning. It was another in a series of bitterly chilly morning that have recently stalked the East Bay. While there she awaited the first of two mundane days of field training, this day, featuring a stint at the shooting range.

“Can I get some bullets?” asked Spagnoli. During her swearing-in as San Leandro’s first female police chief today at City Hall, Spagnoli said she failed her shooting test leaving retiring Ian Willis to joke with dismay, “I’m leaving on Tuesday. That’s my last day. You need to pass.”

With many of the police force ringing the walls of the council chambers along with a full house of local dignitaries and family, Spagnoli was sworn-in by Alameda County Superior Court Judge Roy Hashimoto, who briefly flubbed the oath by asking her twice to pledge allegiance to both the state and U.S. Constitutions. Spagnoli’s teenage son and husband, who is also a police officer in San Jose, pinned the honorary badge on her uniform.

Spagnoli, 43, ended four years as chief of the Benicia Police Department last month to become San Leandro’s tenth chief of police and third in the last three years. She got her start in law enforcement in San Carlos, volunteering as a junior officer at 16. “I wanted to arrest people,” Spagnoli said recalling her first recollections of police work. “I wanted to write tickets.”

“I really wanted to part of the public safety family and part of making a community safe,” she said. “Early in my career, I really realized this wasn’t just a job, it’s something I believe is a call to duty.”

Many expect the hiring of Spagnoli puts an ends a vicious cloud of department in-fighting and accusations of sexual harassment among San Leandro male officers against female employees. San Leandro City Manager Stephen Hollister, who hired Spagnoli to replace the retiring Willis, called the day “historic.”

“She has a career of positive progressive steps in law enforcement,” said Hollister. “She is ahead of the curve in technology, in training education, community outreach and a wide variety of police activities.”
Sgt. Mike Sobek, the president of the San Leandro Police Officers Association says the force is looking forward to working with Spagnoli and is eagerly awaiting descriptions of her specific goals for the department.
The day also ends the successful two-year run as police chief for Willis, who announced his retirement last October. During his tenure, Willis’ leadership led to consecutive drops in crime amidst continuing cuts to the staff and officers. “He came into the job with a lot thrown on his desk,” said Sobek. “There were problems with the lawsuits and morale, which was unfortunate, but he got us through that.” 
Willis replaced former chief Dale Attarian whose time as police chief was mired by problems with morale and a charged atmosphere of sexual harassment and subsequent lawsuits against the city by seven former female officers. According to court documents, the overall tone of Attarian’s police department had more in common with Cops Gone Wild than an institution of law enforcement. Earlier this summer, the city settled all of the suits against them costing $675,000.
Hollister commended Willis for his work and called him a “steadying hand on the tiller.” Willis’ work after announcing retirement on behalf of passing Measure Z last November was also mentioned by a few officer along with Hollister, which best illustrated his commitment to the city. The passage of Measure Z raised the city’s sales tax to 10 percent and will hopefully allow San Leandro to maintain or increase the number of police officers in the city.
Spagnoli says he plans to focus her department on new public safety strategies to reduce crime, maintain excellent service levels, support intervention and prevention. She also specific mention of supporting youth causes, an issue she also focused in during her time in Benicia.