Community Policing and Rebuilding Relationships – Ep.71

Building Resilience – Ep.70
November 30, 2022
International Empowerment – Ep.72
December 14, 2022

Police chief Sekou Millington shares how he uses his platform to reconnect the relationship between his community and law enforcement through contemporary policing and outreach in Tracy, CA. 

Melyssa Barrett:  Welcome to the Jali Podcast. I’m your host, Melyssa Barrett. This podcast is for those who are interested in the conversation around diversity, inclusion, and equity.

Each week I’ll be interviewing a guest who has something special to share, or is actively part of building solutions in this space. Let’s get started.

I thought this week might be the perfect time to sit down with my own city’s Chief of Police, who has two decades as an officer rising through the ranks, through the Oakland Police Department. Chief Sekou Millington really underscored his commitment to the community in a number of assignments, including but not limited to community policing, where he worked to build and strengthen community police relationships, partnering with community leaders and stakeholders. He also worked in narcotics enforcement, he spent time undercover working to elicit drugs off the streets. Investigations where he liaised with federal agencies such as DEA, FBI, ATF, the US Marshall Service and SWAT, where he served as an operator, team leader, then tactical commander.

While assigned as the training section commander, Chief Millington served on the department’s Force Review board and Executive Force Review boards, where he worked with other executive staff members to formulate strategies to keep the department at the cutting edge of contemporary policing strategies.

Chief Millington served as an area commander in Area 1 in Oakland, which encompassed the West Oakland and downtown areas. And his final assignment with the Oakland Police Department was as the Internal Affairs Division commander. He’s a member of several local community organizations and national law enforcement organizations, including the Tracy Sunrise Rotary Club, the Tracy African American Association, the San Francisco Bay Area chapter of the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives, or NOBLE, where he proudly serves as a two-term chapter president. He’s also a member of the International Association of Chiefs of Police, the California Police Chiefs Association, the FBI National Academy Association, and the Police Executive Research Forum, always looking for new methods to provide contemporary policing practices to the communities he serves.

Additionally, Chief Millington attended the FBI National Academy, earned his certificate of achievement in criminal justice education from the University of Virginia. He attended the Union Institute and University, where he earned his bachelor’s degree in criminal justice and master’s degree in organizational leadership. And he has what he calls a FIRST commitment, F-I-R-S-T, to every citizen, business, and visitor to the city of Tracy. And it’s based on principles of fairness, integrity, respect, service, and teamwork.

And that he has done, is really just showed some tremendous leadership since he’s been in my city. He’s really demonstrated his ownership of the mission and continues to provide, both he and his team, the Tracy community, just an amazing amount of community involvement. So I am excited this week, as I usually am, to talk to my own police chief Sekou Millington. And I was there when he was sworn in, and I’m just excited that you are here in the community, making a difference. So thank you for being here.

Sekou Millington:  Thank you. Thank you for having me. I appreciate it.

Melyssa Barrett:  Yeah, it’s my pleasure.

Sekou Millington:  I’ve known you as long as I’ve been here. It’s almost three years now, right?

Melyssa Barrett:  Yes, day one. I wanted to make sure.

Sekou Millington:  That’s right.

Melyssa Barrett:  But one of the things I usually start with is, if you could, my husband was a storyteller. So the Jali Podcast is kind of a head nod to him, as a professional storyteller. And everyone has a story. So I like to start out with you maybe telling us a little bit about how you were able to get to this place in your life and career.

Sekou Millington:  Okay.

Melyssa Barrett:  Because all I know is, you started out in Oakland, and you ended up in Tracy.

Sekou Millington:  Okay. I’m happy to share the story. I happen to like storytelling. I think that’s the best way to get a message across, right?

Melyssa Barrett:  Yes.

Sekou Millington:  So yeah, I’d be happy to share a few minutes, to tell you a little bit about who I am, and where I’m from. And where I come from, and what got me here.

Melyssa Barrett:  Yes, please.

Sekou Millington:  Okay. Well, so again, thank you so much for having me here. Sekou Millington, super, super happy about my current position, and the department that I’m working for.

I had a very unique start to my law enforcement profession. I would even go, well before that, I was born in South America. I was born in a small country on the east coast of South America, Georgetown, Guyana. And I love sharing that story, because I come from what’s considered a third world country. Right now, it’s booming because of a huge oil find, so there’s a big to-do about all of the growth going on there. Not that I’m rich now, but I’m very fortunate for the benefits and the advantages I’ve been able to gain, being an American citizen.

So I came here at the age of seven. My family migrated to New York, where we came over the course of a number of years. And that sort of became our hub, our home in the US, before maybe around my generation we started branching off into a variety of states. But yeah, I came here as a resident alien. I wasn’t born here. I wasn’t born with the advantages of a lot of the young people that I talk to, today. Just trying to make clear to them how fortunate they are. Right?

Melyssa Barrett:  Yeah.

Sekou Millington:  I’ve been back twice since coming here, to moving and migrating, becoming a citizen here. Twice. And the country hasn’t changed a whole lot. It’s still a huge separation of the haves and the have-nots. And so really, again, it just sort of brought it all back to reality of how fortunate I am. And not only how hard I’ve worked to get here, but how fortunate I was to come across people who were willing to help me, willing to mentor me, willing to show me that NOBLE path on how to achieve my goals.

And it really just comes from hard work, good moral upbringing. I was raised by a single mother. I watched her work two jobs, sometimes two and a half jobs. While as the eldest of three siblings, I was the eldest, I had two younger sisters. I was kind of the dad at home. My mom was my mother and my father. And it instilled in me the value of hard work, and discipline and respect. So I don’t take those things for granted, I don’t take it lightly, the position that I’m in. And I always think back to my roots, my very humble roots. And I’m truly blessed to be here.

But what I’ve achieved is not unachievable. I’ve seen it time and time again, by my mentors and the examples that I’ve followed. And I hope to do the same for others.

Melyssa Barrett:  Right. So how did you even get to Oakland, then?

Sekou Millington:  Yeah, okay.

Melyssa Barrett:  You were in New York.

Sekou Millington:  Yeah. So when I was about 17 years old, I was at that pivotal moment of my life where I was kind of becoming a rebellious young man. I was always responsible, but my mom wanted to see me do better. I had two uncles that I looked up to. Like I said, I was raised by a single mother, but my two uncles were in the military. Lifelong military servants. One was in the Navy. He was stationed at Oak Knoll, out of Oakland. And the other was in the Air Force. He was stationed down in Lompoc, in LA. Southern California.

My uncle offered me the opportunity to come out to California and live with him, when I was at that moment where I’m trying to navigate life and…

Melyssa Barrett:  Feel yourself?

Sekou Millington:  Yeah, feel myself. And the opportunity presented itself, and it was probably the most pivotal moment in my life, because it gave me an opportunity to get out of New York. The concrete jungle, they call it. It’s the city that never sleeps. Very busy, very competitive. I’ve been more of an academic than a student, I’m six foot five and a little heavier than I want to be right now, I won’t even say my weight. But I’ve always been a stellar student. I like to study, I like science, history. And so I was geared to go to college. That’s what I wanted to do. And I didn’t necessarily have that opportunity immediately in New York, so I moved to California with my uncle, to continue my education.

And it was then, when I got here, I found growing up in New York City, really the borough of Brooklyn, and not really seeing too many other places. You didn’t really stray too far into the Bronx and Bed Sty, and to different places. You sort of grew up much like the inner city kids here, I worked in Oakland for 20 years. There’s some kids who have never ventured beyond Oakland, have never gone to San Francisco. And I’ll share some of that story, when I was a two-time president for NOBLE, where our goal was to introduce young inner city kids to things beyond Oakland. The world is a vast place. Across the bridge, there are sights, the Redwood Forest. And theater, just 30 minutes away, they ordinarily wouldn’t get to see and experience. And so we took that upon ourselves to bring that opportunity, to take the kids out of the environment that they were in, and show them that there was something different. And plant that seed, that you can do more than just be from this place. About this place.

Melyssa Barrett:  Right.

Sekou Millington:  So I got that opportunity when I left New York, and I went to California. I was like, “Wow, first of all, there’s no snow. Oh, that’s great. And I’m not dealing with four seasons. I got beautiful sunny weather all the time, and it’s extremely spacious.” Right?

Melyssa Barrett:  Yeah. That’s awesome.

Sekou Millington:  Yeah, it was definitely eye opening to me, and I was going to take full advantage of it. So I was going to school, I was attending Chabot College part-time, doing some loss prevention work, believe it or not. And then I also dabbled in plumbing. I went through some trade work, working with my hands. It was always probably more my thing. I wanted to be an engineer, or some sort of structural designer or builder or something, working with my hands. Very hands on. And so I wanted to go to school, kind of gear me in that direction, and then while working as loss prevention, I actually had the opportunity to interact with police officers. They would come take custody of individuals I had detained, and arrested for petty theft.

And I wrote good reports. I always thought of myself as detailed, and I actually got myself into some weird situations where they were like, “Geez, normally security or lost prevention, they don’t do that.” And I was, “It’s my job. No one’s taking anything from this place, listen.”

Melyssa Barrett:  “This is my place.”

Sekou Millington:  Yeah, it’s my place. So as I met the officers, and I would have to write reports, and then testify on the results of my actions. The officers said, “Well, are you interested in officers, is this something you would be interested in? I think you’d make a good cop. Why don’t you come on a ride along with us?” And at the time…

Melyssa Barrett:  Wow.

Sekou Millington:  … San Leandro PD was hiring, they were hiring, and that was the agency that I was interacting with, on a regular basis. I went on a ride along, and my mind was blown. Mind you, it wasn’t necessarily my passion to become a police officer. I wasn’t seeking a career in law enforcement. But I will tell you that, thank God I did this, because I found the profession that I was built for. I found the field that I was created to be a part of. And we clicked. San Leandro and Oakland were going through the process, and once I started with San Leandro, by again excellent mentorship, “Hey, don’t put all your eggs in one basket. This is a neighboring city. Let’s apply with both.”

t the time, Oakland was just coming off of a hiring freeze, and they were hiring a ton of officers, trying to catch up with their attrition. Their process was about two times faster than San Leandro’s, smaller agency, probably about the size of Tracy. And so they couldn’t compete, with the amount of people they were bringing in, and they also ran their own academy.

Melyssa Barrett:  Oh, okay.

Sekou Millington:  And so I got picked up by Oakland, and that was all she wrote. There was no looking back at that point. I went through my career there, for almost 20 years, thinking I would actually retire from that department. I so loved what I do, and the people that I was able to work with, and the experiences that I was able to engage in. The people I was able to help, the different assignments that I… It’s like no other profession.

Melyssa Barrett:  Yeah.

Sekou Millington:  So I had a very full career, at Oakland.

Melyssa Barrett:  And then you decided to come over the hill.

Sekou Millington:  Yeah, sometimes it’s just about timing and opportunity. I didn’t expect that I would leave. Honestly, I didn’t expect that I would be leaving the Oakland Police Department. But I will tell you, because of the pace of that department, because of the volume of work, because of the level of activity, because of the oversight. It pushed us to work extremely hard, to be extremely proficient at what we do.

Melyssa Barrett:  Yeah.

Sekou Millington:  And in my last assignment, after having worked a number of assignments as the Internal Affairs Division commander, I think I worked that assignment about two years before separating. That was sort of the last piece of the puzzle for me in well-rounded-ness I’ve done all the assignments there were, when it comes to Bureau of Field Operations, patrol and task force and specialized units. Undercover work, I was part of the SWAT team in every rank, from officer to lieutenant. I can’t remember if I was, as a captain’s commander, because my assignment as an IA commander conflicted with being a tactical commander. In any case, it was part of me also, just being part of that, the tactics in policing.

Melyssa Barrett:  Right.

Sekou Millington:  And so once I was assigned to Internal Affairs Division, it gave me an opportunity to really understand policy, supervision at every level. Working very closely with the independent monitoring team, with the police commission, working with our executive staff, working with the city manager’s office. The mayor’s office, the Council. Gave me an opportunity to interact with so many different aspects of policing at a different level, when the opportunity presented itself to move on and leave the department, and become a chief of the department, I hesitated at first. Thinking, “Is it for me? Is that what I want?” And after, again talking with my mentors, and with the agency that reached out to me. After having some long talks, I said, “Okay, I think I’m ready. I can do this. I’ve had my reps, in Oakland. I think this is something I can do.”

And mind you, the area that I’d last commanded as an area commander in Oakland, is about the size of Tracy. At any given moment during peak hours, with tourism and business, I think that West Oakland swelled to a population of 150, 200,000 people.

Melyssa Barrett:  Wow. Yeah. So this is just in your wheelhouse.

Sekou Millington:  Yeah. And that that’s just one of several areas in that city.

Melyssa Barrett:  Yeah.

Sekou Millington:  So I’m managing personnel, and understanding people and being relational, and being fair and being consistent were all things that I was raised to do in Oakland. So it was fitting when I was able to step away, and then take on the chief’s position, here in Tracy.

Melyssa Barrett:  Well, and what a ground to learn from. I mean, Oakland has its own reputation, and I know there’s so many things that go on. So I know, the community appreciates you being here, so I just want to make sure to tell you that.

Sekou Millington:  I’m thankful to be here. I’m glad.

Melyssa Barrett:  Yes, we are glad you and your whole family are here. So now tell us a little bit about NOBLE, because I know you talked a little bit about NOBLE and what they do, and I want to say, it’s National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives.

Sekou Millington:  Yes.

Melyssa Barrett:  And you were one of, you were a chapter president…

Sekou Millington:  Correct.

… for the San Francisco Bay Area chapter.

Melyssa Barrett:  That’s correct.

Sekou Millington:  And I know you talked a little bit about how you interacted with the kids, but can you talk a little bit about how it informed your personal and professional career, working with NOBLE?

Yeah, again, when you talk about mentorship and development, that was a pivotal part of my career as well. I was able to engage with professionals that weren’t from my department. It was a mixed batch, in the Bay Area. There were executive members from the San Francisco Police Department, the Richmond Police Department, our police department, Hayward, you name it. It was made up of leaders of all these organizations who looked like me, who went through the same experiences that I went through.

And it wasn’t exclusive, it wasn’t just black law enforcement executives, it was open to everyone but the vast majority were black law enforcement executives. And I was able to learn from a lot of the lessons that they’d been through, and listened to their advice. And they were very giving, and very… The way they interacted with me was selfless. They did it for the purposes of seeing someone, who I feel like I am, is ethical, is moral, and wants to do right by the people he serves. And I think they wanted to help build me up. And likewise, I was taught to give that back. So as I grew in the organization, it was my job, it was my responsibility to teach someone else what I learned. And they kind of referred it to, “Each one, teach one.”

Melyssa Barrett:  Right.

Sekou Millington:  I don’t just gain the experience, I don’t just gain the mentorship. I don’t just take it and hoard it. It’s the responsibility to help develop others around me, to help bring on future leaders, to help bring on other members, to help us with the mission of being the conscience of law enforcement. Of being that sort of sounding board and calling out injustice, or speaking up on behalf of the disadvantaged. Or, engaging with the youth. That was a huge part of what we did.

Programs like The Law in Your Community where, on our own time, it’s not on my work time. On my own time, on the weekends, much like I do here, because I’m passionate about what I do. We would go to churches and community centers and host these training seminars, these training sessions for a few hours, where we taught young people the right way to interact with law enforcement so that you leave the situation alive. So that you understand why an officer’s telling you, “Don’t move your hands. Keep your hands on the steering wheel.”

Don’t get out the car and run. If you have a dispute with an officer, here is how you resolve that dispute. You talk to a parent, you talk to an elder, you talk to someone. Clergy. You contact the police department if you have to. Get their name and the badge number. So we wanted to make sure that we were filling the gap that we saw in our society. Some of the young people, in Oakland, I’ve been able to… It’s a different environment here in Tracy, weren’t getting that education in school, they weren’t getting it at home. They were fending for themselves. They were trying to figure out how they’re going to eat.

Melyssa Barrett:  Right, right.

Sekou Millington:  So we felt like it was our responsibility to help with that outreach, with that education. And so we built programs where we went into the high schools, and over, I believe it’s a 10-week period, we had structured programs on The Law in Your Community, separate from the couple of hour sessions that we would go out into the community.

And one of the first times we’d actually ever put on the extended program was in Stockton. I was a lieutenant in Oakland, part of the chapter, and Stockton had received the grant during Eric Jones’ time. And we would travel out here, I don’t know if it was once a month or every couple of weeks. And we would put on this course for the students, and they loved it. And at the end were, we were blown away, because they had a project at the very end where they would now have a town hall, like a forum in the auditorium. And these Stockton students came up with the idea of a Q&A, by way of text. So you had some anonymity, the text would go directly to the panelists. And they came up with this, and we were so amazed that they learned so much, and were so creative at the very end. We said, “This has to go on, we have to continue this program.” Right?

Melyssa Barrett:  Yeah.

Sekou Millington:  And then we went back to Oakland, and we did it there, and we continue to move initiatives like that. Just help empower our young people.

Melyssa Barrett:  Absolutely.

Sekou Millington:  Yeah.

Melyssa Barrett:  So speaking of young people then, because I know, my husband actually was one of the ones that put together the first kind of liaison community interaction with the police. So we had the Tracy African American Association at that time, and several members of the police and Sheriff, if I remember correctly, or Highway Patrol, come and talk. And this was of course before the George Floyd…

Sekou Millington:  Of course.

Melyssa Barrett:  … situation. Murder. But I guess one of the questions I have, so let me ask you about the young people first. Because I think we all, at least in our community, we always refer to the talk that we have to have…

Sekou Millington:  Yes.

Melyssa Barrett:  … with our kids. And there’s this history of being questioned and targeted, because of race. And I don’t know if, you mentioned some of the advice that you give to young people specifically, but I’m sure the advice really can be for anyone that’s in a situation like that. Is there any advice you can give for folks that are driving while Black, or whatever, and find themselves in a situation like that?

And then two, I wanted to ask you a little bit about what it’s like now being a police officer, a Black police officer, during this time of social injustice and the whole Blue Lives versus Black Lives, and all of that. And if you have any thoughts or things you want to share?

Sekou Millington:  That’s a lot to unpack.

Melyssa Barrett:  I know, right? That’s a lot.

Sekou Millington:  Maybe, I’ll start with the beginning.

Melyssa Barrett:  Start small, just the…

Sekou Millington:  Let me start small…

Melyssa Barrett:  Just give the kids, first.

Sekou Millington:  Yeah, let’s talk a little bit about the kids. So yeah, the talk is real. I have four biological kids of my own, and then I have my nieces who I took in after my sister passed away, a set of twins. Teenage girls, and then, a sophomore in college. I think it’s imperative that we educate our kids. The reality is, sometimes bad things happen, and at no fault of your own, the number one goal is to get home safe. Right?

Melyssa Barrett:  Absolutely.

Sekou Millington:  And so I think it is important, because the reality is, there are… I think there are bad people in every profession. I’d be naive to say that we’re perfect, because I’m a cop, and every cop is doing the right thing. I think history’s shown us that, no, that’s not true. First. And then, in this day and age with technology and videos, I think it’s even more apparent.

But what I’ve shared with young people is, “You give respect, you get respect.” Number one. So don’t be disrespectful. If you’re treated in a fashion that you feel is unjust, there’s a time and a place to address it. Sometimes it’s not in a street, when you’re stopped in a car. Or walking down the street. If you feel like you’re being targeted, there’s a time and a place to address that, because the police do have a certain authority. And you may not have the full picture of what’s going on, and they’re actually just carrying out their duty. But you feel it’s unfair. On the scene, at that moment, may not necessarily be the time to address that.

And I would even go one step further in that, we have guidelines, we have principals and we have policies that we’ve got to follow. And so if you feel like you’re being treated unjustly, ask to speak with a supervisor. “I don’t feel like I did anything wrong, can you explain to me what I did?” And sometimes, it’s even that. “So why are you stopping me? I don’t understand what’s going on.” I think the average officer is going to take the time to explain it to you. And if they don’t, then yeah. Maybe consider, “Well this is not time for me to go any further, but I need to find out more about this. I need to look into this.”

I don’t know of, there isn’t an agency that I’m aware of in California, where they don’t have a process for filing a complaint. And having an incident investigated. But you have to know your rights. I think you have to be educated about that, and don’t necessarily go off of what you see on social media, and everything that’s blasted in the news, because it’s not always accurate.

Melyssa Barrett:  Right.

Sekou Millington:  Most websites, PD, police websites today, have all their policies on it. Has all their contact information on there. If you have questions, there are ways to get those questions answered, if you don’t feel like you’re getting it at that moment with that officer.

So I say first, you have to understand what your rights are. And that was a big part of us doing that course on The Law in Your Community. You have to understand the law, you have to understand the authority of an officer.

But as a citizen, you also have rights.

Melyssa Barrett:  Right.

Sekou Millington:  If you haven’t broken the law, you shouldn’t be detained unjustly, you shouldn’t be arrested without the right criteria being in place. There’s recourse for that. So I think for the kids, and part of it is, again I think there’s a gap in education. Where our young people today are learning faster than I know I was learning, because we had to refer to the encyclopedia if we wanted to know what was going on, on the other side of the world.

Melyssa Barrett:  Showing your age now, Chief.

Sekou Millington:  What?

Melyssa Barrett:  You’re showing your age.

Sekou Millington:  But today, they have access to everything.

Melyssa Barrett:  Yes.

Sekou Millington:  All sorts of information. And it’s instantaneous. So the knowledge is there but you have to take the time sometimes, just slow down, educate yourself. And then I think you have to have, if you don’t understand, or if you don’t feel like you’re having that right contact with an officer. Have someone you can talk to, someone you can trust. A teacher, obviously a parent, an elder. And say, “What can I do? What should I do? Here’s what happened.” Don’t feel like you have to, as a young person, try to answer all the questions. Because you may not know.

Melyssa Barrett:  Yeah.

Sekou Millington:  Interestingly enough, I’ve had this talk recently with the kids over at Tracy High. It was some of the kids you’re familiar with, at the Black Student Union.

Melyssa Barrett:  Okay.

Sekou Millington:  And we were having some good dialogue about this, about some of what’s being seen on TV and on social media, and what’s true and what’s false. And, “What should we believe? What’s the real, Chief?” So it’s always good to have those conversations, because you’d be surprised how much they learn. But then in turn, we learn.

Melyssa Barrett:  Right.

Sekou Millington:  We learn that, a lot of the perception is word of mouth, and third party. These kids have never had a negative interaction with the police, but their perception is that all police are bad, and that there’s a negative stigma around wearing a uniform. And that, “I would never become a police officer,” but I would offer, “If you want to see change, you have to be a part of that. You have to put yourself in that position to help improve the system, if you feel like it’s unjust.”

Melyssa Barrett:  Yeah.

Sekou Millington:  I think it starts with open dialogue, being open and honest with young people, because they’re smart. They know what’s going on. And they can tell when someone’s being genuine with them, or if they’re blowing smoke.

Melyssa Barrett:  Yeah. No, that’s awesome. So just to make sure I don’t skip this part, what is it like for you now in this leadership position, leading at this time? Because you came into this city right after George Floyd, if I remember correctly.

Sekou Millington:  No, just before.

Melyssa Barrett:  Just before?

Sekou Millington:  I came in January.

Melyssa Barrett:  Okay.

Sekou Millington:  Yeah.

Melyssa Barrett:  Yeah. It was…

Sekou Millington:  So I think it was…

Melyssa Barrett:  I knew it was close.

Sekou Millington:  COVID and George Floyd. So you know what I think it did? I think it brought perspective because I come from a city, again, not to go back to Oakland. But I come from a place where there was a lot of civil unrest, there was a lot of protests, a lot of activism. And we had to be, I think we learned as an organization that you have to listen to people, that you have to reach out early to defuse what could be seen as a conflict. A conflict that might not even be real, but we have to take it upon ourselves to reach out. Historically, I think we just waited until it came to us.

Melyssa Barrett:  Right.

Sekou Millington:  So we learned, in an instance where George Floyd didn’t happen here in the city of Tracy, but if someone is upset by it, if they feel troubled by it? It is our job because we’re responsible for public safety, to reach out with those individuals and understand what they’re going through and help them through. I mean, they have a Constitutional right of free speech and expression, and our responsibility is to protect them as they engage in those Constitutional rights.

And so, I’m of the belief that we are a part of this community, so if there’s some sort of unrest or strife, we need to understand why that is, be a part of the solution. Not just sit back and wait for it to hit the fan, and then try to come in with the mentality that we’re going to bring peace, to chaos. Can’t do it that way.

Melyssa Barrett:  Right, yeah.

Sekou Millington:  And again, I was fortunate to have gone through a lot of critical incidents, and you’ve seen it on TV, a lot of on civil unrest. And a lot of protests, and a lot of demonstrations, where there were lessons learned that I took away. And the good thing is, this is a healthy, smart forward-thinking department.

And so I think being a Black man, as a police officer, I understood some of the challenges. I saw the faces of the young people who were organizing, and they are just trying to explain what they’re going through, what their perception is. I was understanding of that. I would like to think that this department was put at ease. I wasn’t alarmed by it. I wasn’t surprised by it. I’ve seen it, time and time again. It wasn’t new for me. And so we approached it very openly, very generally caring. “I want to know what it is you’re trying to say. How can we help you during these times of unrest? I want to make sure that we’re partners in this, so it doesn’t get to a point where people are trying to loot, burn things down. We don’t want to get to that point. I don’t think you want to get to that point, right? As organizers.”

So I think that dialogue was huge in the beginning.

Melyssa Barrett:  Yeah.

Sekou Millington:  And nothing happened here. We had some very peaceful demonstrations. Folks were able to speak, and speak their truth.

Melyssa Barrett:  Yes.

Sekou Millington:  And we were present to make sure that they can do that safely, but far enough away where they can be comfortable, and just try to be adaptable to the situation. I think that’s part of it also, I’m naturally an adaptable person. I’m not very rigid. I’m open to new things. I like to think I take chances, but I think it comes from a place of comfort, having seen so much…

Melyssa Barrett:  Right. Turmoil?

Sekou Millington:  Chaos, and turmoil.

Melyssa Barrett:  Yeah.

Sekou Millington:  And also, it would have to get pretty hectic, for me to get all worked up and nervous.

Melyssa Barrett:  Yeah.

Sekou Millington:  Like I said, I think my experience is also, being raised as someone from a different country, having to get my citizenship, having had to work on my accent. And it was a bit more of a struggle for me, as a young person, transitioning to an American education system. And the reading and the writing. So I had my own challenges just acclimating to an American culture, it gave me perspective. I came from a very strong family. When you talk about, it takes a village to raise a child, that’s what was going on with me. I had seven aunts that were like my mother, right?

Melyssa Barrett:  Whoa. Seven aunts.

Sekou Millington:  Yeah. And two uncles. We have…

Melyssa Barrett:  Wow.

Sekou Millington:  … one of those big families.

Melyssa Barrett:  Yes.

Sekou Millington:  I knew about checks and balances, and so…

Melyssa Barrett:  Right. That’s awesome.

Sekou Millington:  … it helped to make me who I am, when it comes to being the leader of an organization, I think. It takes patience, it takes understanding, it takes flexibility.

Melyssa Barrett:  Yeah. Well, and it’s so interesting because, I look at all of the things that you’ve been doing to just bring an awareness and a different type of connection with the community. And I know you talk about some of the things. I keep track of you, so I know you’ve been working on things like FIRST, and mental health.

Sekou Millington:  Yes.

Melyssa Barrett:  And you’ve been doing some things with mental health, and some of, I’ll call them contemporary policing. But when people talk about community policing, I always wonder what that means, because shouldn’t it always be community… Like, what’s the other part? I don’t know. So it’s interesting to me, because I think as you’ve come here, you now have this ability to really shift and shape things in a different way. So are there things that you’re maybe, I’ll say most proud of at this point, knowing that you’ve been in here for a couple of years?

Sekou Millington:  Yeah.

Melyssa Barrett:  Kind of got your feet wet.

Sekou Millington:  Great question. And I think the question comes up every so often, “What is community policing?” And it’s really not just any one thing. I think sometimes it’s sort of looked at as, or seen or taken as, a gimmick. Or you’re just doing this one event, and that satisfies community policing.

For me, it’s more of a philosophy. For me, it’s an organizational philosophy that, we are a part of this community. And each and every one of us, whether it’s a patrol officer, an Animal Services officer, a code enforcement officer, our records specialist or our dispatcher, has to understand that we are a full service police department. And community policing is about customer service. Whether you’re talking to someone, whether you’re presenting yourself, whether you’re being a problem solver, whether you’re being a forward thinker, it’s not any one thing. It’s a whole slew of things.

And so to me, it’s more about mindset, right?

Melyssa Barrett:  Yeah.

Sekou Millington:  When I see, and this is what makes me most proud. When I talk about community engagement, we do a lot of things, like you said. We engage in a lot of sporting activities, that’s the best way to sometimes reach children. Their parents want them in sports, they want to be in sports. Well, we also love sports, so let’s connect around that.

Community non-profit groups who, their purpose is to address, whether it’s despair of treatment, the lack of services, but their mission is to enhance the community. We want to do that. Whether it’s the Tracy African American Association, Tracy Sunrise Rotary, the Lions Club, I mean I can go on and on. South Side Association, all of those organizations are about community enhancement, about community building. It is our responsibility to partner with them. And as a philosophy separate from, just me doing it. When I see my command staff, when I see my officers, when I see Animal Services, also engaging those organizations and looking at ways to better enhance communication, to work on projects down the road. And say, “Hey, we’re a part of that,” that’s community policing to me.

It’s less of what I want, and more of our department understanding that we serve this community, in every aspect that we can.

Melyssa Barrett:  Yeah.

Sekou Millington:  I mean I can go on and on about it.

Melyssa Barrett:  But that’s like 24… I mean you literally, I can see you at any restaurant, or at a park or wherever. You are literally out there all the time.

Sekou Millington:  I’m passionate about what I do. I told you. From the very beginning, I loved this profession, I love this work.

Melyssa Barrett:  It’s almost like you are infusing who you are, into what this community becomes, which I think is what we hope for everyone. But it’s awesome as a police chief, to watch not only some of the things you’ve done in terms of just recruiting, and who you have on the police force. And the promotions, and all the connections that you have, even just in terms of communicating those. Because I think sometimes, maybe you have people doing great things, but nobody knows about it.

Sekou Millington:  Right. You’re so right about that. And so, one of our initiatives was to get our message out. To have a platform where, separate from our webpage, which we’ve had for a long time. Telling the story of our people. Not only the engagement where we are connecting with the community, partnering with nonprofits, acting more as a force multiplier to a lot of the great things that they’re doing. It seems like a lot, but a lot of things have been going on here for a very long time. We’re making a more assertive effort to partner with a lot of people. So we’re not recreating the wheel.

One of the things we did was, create a position, our Public Information Officer’s position. It started off as something where, one of my Community Preservation officers sort of transitioned over to help me create this platform where we can tell our story, we can share the good news about promotions and new hires, and different things that we’re trying to do and accomplish. And even great arrests. And that’s a huge part of it, right? We’re about public safety. But a place to be able to be timely in responding to people, because people had questions. And oftentimes, they’ll send those questions by way of social media, and no one was there to respond to it. Now, we can’t respond to every question. I think sometimes, folks are just, some people aren’t going to be satisfied no matter how much hard work and how dedicated we are. Some people just not going to get it.

But we want to be timely in our responses to people. I pride myself on that. I make that a point, for my command staff and the officers. Be able to answer people’s questions, be timely in doing it. Make sure people know that they’re heard, and that we’re addressing the issues that are pressing for them.

Melyssa Barrett:  Yeah.

Sekou Millington:  We’ve gone through sort of a transition of who is the creative, who’s going to handle that platform, who’s going to handle social media. Instagram, Next Door, Twitter, Facebook. We did a recruitment, and we had a lot of interest. Had a lot of interest. So we ended up selecting someone who was, at the time, hired at the fire department. Believe it or not, was already a city employee, who was energized and was thoughtful and creative. That’s one of the things I was looking for, creativity. Because we talked about this new position that I didn’t really have fully formed, that was being built.

And then this young person, this energized person, who can help what we call build the ship at sea. We didn’t have a real full idea of what it would be but I knew, with the right direction, that we can make it what it is. And she’s done that for us. We had someone who had left the city, who helped me build this model and was doing a great job. Went on to a better opportunity. Now Caitlin is here with us, partnered with my Chief of Staff, Sergeant Mario Ysit, who are doing a phenomenal job in getting content, and pushing out that content on a regular basis, to keep our community informed. Let them know that we are out there working for them.

Melyssa Barrett:  Yeah.

Sekou Millington:  We’re out there trying to build strong relationships.

Melyssa Barrett:  Well, it’s working, because I know I’m seeing it. So I’m hoping a lot of other folks are, as well. So I’m going to ask you one last question…

Sekou Millington:  Okay.

Melyssa Barrett:  … before we, because you have such a broad experience across the… One of the things that you’ve even mentioned, you wanted to be an engineer, so that gave me some insight into your mindset. But in terms of, we talked about contemporary policing, but you also have a whole technology kind of focus, as well.

Sekou Millington:  Yes.

Melyssa Barrett:  So can you talk a little bit about that? Because for Tracy, I was like, “Okay, Tracy, we’re trying to do something.”

Sekou Millington:  Yeah, no, you’re spot on. I’m a big believer in working smarter, not harder. And I’m fortunate that we get a lot of support here. It’s one of the benefits of being here. You can see the impact of your initiatives very quickly. There’s technology out there that not only is, I think fiscally responsible, because it costs a lot less than hiring a new officer to try to do something that technology can do faster and more efficiently. And this is not, whether or not we need more officers, or more technology. It’s a combination of it.

Melyssa Barrett:  Right.

Sekou Millington:  But there’s technology, much like the license plate reader systems that we just recently had installed around the city. Part of it is, making bad actors understand, making them aware, that we don’t take crime lightly. That we’re very serious on following up, as soon as possible, on that sort of nefarious activity. And that you will get arrested by the Tracy Police Department. But, if we can prevent it, we’d much rather prevent it. So don’t come to our city and do the crime.

Melyssa Barrett:  Right, yeah. Good.

Sekou Millington:  So technology, it works in a number of ways. There’s prevention. We’re going to make known, and actually I’m glad you mentioned that, because we’re getting ready to put out some messaging about this new system we have here. There’s intervention, we want to intercept bad actors. And enforcement. We want to be able to follow up sooner than later. This system is proven in other cities and other jurisdictions, we’ve used it ourselves to solve multiple cases. It’s effective.

Melyssa Barrett:  Yeah.

Sekou Millington:  And so what I want to do is put our community at ease, that we are being thoughtful. When you talk about not only the license plate reader technology, the way we centralize our information through CAD RMS. We have a system called Mark43, because analytics is huge. We have to have good data, good evidence to direct how we police, how we provide public safety in this city. And if you don’t have the facts, if you don’t have the baseline of what’s going on, you don’t have good reports that you can see on a timely basis automatically. Not something you have to put a lot of manpower to generate. It’s hard to be fully effective.

And so we work with a system that sends out a lot of analytics. We want to be timely, but we also want to know trends. We want to know where those trends are occurring, the times that they’re occurring, the days that they’re occurring, so that we can allocate resources accordingly.

Melyssa Barrett: Yeah

Sekou Millington:  This system does that for us.

Melyssa Barrett:  Yes.

Sekou Millington:  And then some. And then, it’s also very transferable. We can do a lot of the work from our phone, our cell phones, that interact with these systems. We’re dealing with a younger generation who are very tech savvy. And so I think we have to acclimate to that. We have to adjust to their needs. I think it makes us a better, more functional organization.

Melyssa Barrett:  Yeah, for sure. For sure. Wow. Well, I might have to have you come back, because this was a lot, this was good. And I have more things we could talk about. But I really do appreciate all the things that you’re bringing to the city, and it’s wonderful to see your leadership and the benefits and effects of that, coming through. So I want to give you some kudos, and say congratulations on your NAACP Freedom Fighter Award.

Sekou Millington:  And I appreciate that. Totally unexpected. And if I could add, I appreciate the kudos, and the fact is I’m not the one doing the work. I might light the spark, and I have more ideas than I care to mention, but I have a very, very energized, very engaged team. We have, in all aspects of this organization, people who really want to do well. A lot of them live here, and I don’t live here, I work here. But I’m a member of this community. They care about this community. And so they come to work passionate, trying to do the right thing. And I encourage that, I encourage that sort of initiative based thinking. And they are the ones who are getting the work done, to be honest with you.

Melyssa Barrett:  Yeah.

Sekou Millington:  And I’m proud to…

Melyssa Barrett:  But we see it. I was out at a festival or something, not long ago, and my little five-year-old grandson, he really wants to be a police officer.

Sekou Millington:  Oh, nice. I’m looking, I’m always recruiting.

Melyssa Barrett:  So he keeps, and they, I mean your officers were out there. I want to say Officer Mario, I got to give him a shout-out, because he’s the dancing guy.

Sekou Millington:  Yeah, he’s pretty…

Melyssa Barrett:  He’s dancing all the time.

Sekou Millington:  Pretty energized.

Melyssa Barrett:  But they gave him a ride, and it was just, he was so excited just to be able to interact with police in that way. Because I think sometimes they think they’re not supposed to.

Sekou Millington:  Right.

Melyssa Barrett:  So, it was awesome.

Sekou Millington:  And we encourage that. When you talk about community oriented policing, that to me is what it is. It’s not about me being there. It’s not about the captain and lieutenant being there. Our officers should feel comfortable engaging, just like that.

Melyssa Barrett:  Yeah.

Sekou Millington:  Taking the time to make a kid smile and happy. Encouraging them to be a police officer when they grow up.

Melyssa Barrett:  That’s it. That’s it. Well, thank you again for being here, you and your whole team. So I’ll give a shout-out. Definitely a shout-out to my cohort Melissa, my own namesake, who I know supports you because she’s awesome too. So thanks again, Chief Sekou Millington.

Sekou Millington:  Very welcome.

Melyssa Barrett:  Really enjoyed you, and looking forward to hearing more from you.

Sekou Millington:  I’d be happy to come back and talk with you some more. There’s a lot more that we’re doing here.

Melyssa Barrett:  Just scratched the surface.

Sekou Millington:  Yes.

Melyssa Barrett:  Awesome.

Thanks for joining me on the Jali Podcast. Please subscribe, so you won’t miss an episode. See you next week.