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Ferguson taps commander from Arizona to be new interim police chief

Andre Anderson, the new interim chief of the Ferguson police department, listens as Mayor James Knowles announces his appointment to the job on July 22. City manager Ed Beasley is to Anderson's left.
UPI/Bill Greenblatt

A 24-year veteran of the Glendale, Ariz., police department will take the reins in Ferguson for the next six months.

Ferguson Mayor James Knowles announced Wednesday that Andre Anderson, who has led Glendale's Criminal Investigations Division, will take over the 50-officer Ferguson department on July 23. He'll have the job for six months, replacing Al Eickhoff, who took over after former chief Thomas Jackson resigned in March.

"I am truly humbled and honored that our city manager, Mr. Ed Beasley, selected me for this position," Anderson said. "I believe that I am here to help serve the city of Ferguson and the community."

Anderson and Beasley first crossed paths in Glendale, where Beasley served in the city's top administrative role until 2012. Beasley said he didn't work directly with Anderson that often, but said Anderson's appointment wasn't a coincidence.

"We picked the best person," Beasley said. "He's exceptionally known nationally for his ability not only to lead, but also his innovation. He is also known as an excellent person in areas that I think are particularly important to our community, like community policing, community outreach and community interactions and exchanges."

Anderson said he'll use recommendations from the Department of Justice patterns and practices report, as well as the report from President Obama's Task Force on 21st Century Policing, as the template for how he will deal with the community.

"I don’t know exactly which meetings I’ll be at, or which venues I’ll be at, but know for sure that myself and the police officers will be out in the community, walking and talking to people," he said.

Anderson said he knows he won't be able to complete the department reforms in his initial six months on the job, but that he'll be able to start the department on the right path.

"I hope I'm a candidate for the full-time position," Anderson said. "But right now, I'll be honest with you, I'm not going to focus on whether I'm the candidate of the future. My focus is on building trust in the community  right now."

Anderson's background

A native of Philadelphia, Anderson began boxing at the age of 12, according to a 1999 profile of him in the Arizona Republic. He was a successful amateur boxer while in the U.S. Army, and won two professional fights before being seriously injured in a 1988 car accident. He joined the Glendale police department in 1991, and served as a regional vice president for the North American Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives. In 2013, he was a finalist for the chief's position in Casa Grande, Ariz., a town of about 41,000 people 60 miles south of Glendale.

“Andre is uniquely and exceptionally qualified to serve as Ferguson’s Interim Police Chief," said Glendale chief Debora Black in a statement. "I have tremendous respect for Chief Anderson; I am confident he will serve members of the Ferguson community as capably as he has served the City of Glendale. We wish him the best of success."

The Ferguson City Council will vote next week on Anderson's six-month contract. If it's approved, he will become the first black chief in the department's history. The city's population is two-thirds black, but the number of black officers is in the single digits.

"As an African-American male in a community, I have a responsibility to get into the community and demonstrate that I can be a positive role model," Anderson said. "But you don't have to be an African-American male. You can be of any race as long as you care. I do understand that race is a factor, but the reality is that I place the greatest emphasis on humans, period."

Wesley Bell, one of the newest members of the council, said he found insinuations that Anderson was hired for optics "insulting."

"Diversity is important, but you cannot compromise the quality of the people (we are) bringing in," he said. "For me personally, if I felt that I wasn't impressed or thought that person had the qualifications regardless of what race they were, I would say something about it. It's interim. If it doesn't work out, we'll go in a different direction." 

Ferguson city council member Wesley Bell (right) talks to the wife and parents of Andre Anderson after Anderson was officially named the interim police chief in Ferguson.
Credit Rachel Lippmann/St. Louis Public Radio
Ferguson city council member Wesley Bell (right) talks to the wife and parents of Andre Anderson after Anderson was officially named the interim police chief in Ferguson.

Reactions to Anderson

Bell said he had a chance to talk to Anderson and liked what he had heard. 

Two of Bell's fellow council members, Brian Fletcher and Ella Jones, were also at Anderson's introduction. Two other members -- Dwayne James and Mark Byrne -- both said they supported Anderson's appointment, and that he would bring a breath of fresh air to the department. Keith Kallstrom did not return a phone call for comment.

It was not immediately clear how many candidates were interviewed for the interim chief role. The current interim chief, Al Eickhoff, will remain with the Ferguson department in his previous role as assistant chief.

Knowles said the city wanted to wait until it had a permanent city manager in place before it made any other hires.

"The last time we hired a permanent city manager, it took six months," he said. "We don't have six months in order to continue both the functioning of our city government and enact the reforms the City Council has directed our staff to implement. So it's important for us to get excellent individuals here on at least an interim basis."

Anderson is currently not a licensed police officer in the state of Missouri, so he won't be out on the street making arrests. The license is not required for administrative and management duties, and it would be a relatively simple process for someone with Anderson's experience to receive a commission in Missouri.

A Ferguson spokesman said he did not know if Anderson planned to submit an application for his Missouri license.

Follow Rachel Lippmann on Twitter: @rlippmann

Rachel is the justice correspondent at St. Louis Public Radio.