Veteran law enforcement officer Nishant Joshi was sworn in June 7 as the city of Alameda, California’s new police chief.
Joshi, who had previously served with the Oakland, California, police department for more than 23 years, is the first U.S.-born Indian American police chief in California. Manjit Sappal, the police chief in Martinez, California, was born in England.
In an interview with India-West on the eve of his first day on the job, Joshi credited Sappal as inspiring him to serve in law enforcement. “My parents wanted me to be a doctor or lawyer, but policing fascinated me,” he said.
Alameda, a small, bucolic town on the waterfront, will pose different challenges from Oakland, said Joshi. Oakland is consistently listed as one of the most violent cities in the U.S., with crime rates spiking again after some lulls.
“It is time to reimagine what policing should look like,” said Joshi, responding to a question about last summer’s Black Lives Matter protests - following the murder of Minnesota resident George Floyd by police officers - with calls to de-fund police.
“Historically, we have looked at crime fighting as the absence of crime, but we can configure it to look at the presence of justice,” he explained. “We have marginalized communities of color, and we have to look at the holistic impact to those communities. Was our response procedurally just, and will it be viewed by the community as just and fair?”
“If I stopped 10 people in a neighborhood looking for one piece of contraband, that is a low level of success. I have offended nine people, and left a huge footprint of suspicion in the community,” said Joshi. “We cannot subject people to outdated police strategies."
The new police chief said he is open to working with mental health professionals to de-escalate situations that would not necessarily require police presence. “If someone is experiencing a mental health crisis and harming other people, that’s definitely a police call, but a teenager misbehaving in school probably just needs a counselor,” he said.
“I don’t want us to over-police our communities. As a man of color, the son of immigrants who is married to a black woman, and father to bi-racial children, these issues hit home for me.”
Joshi said he does not support random traffic stops, especially those that target certain ethnicities. “I will not tolerate bias on my force.”
Similarly, the new police chief said he will not tolerate the use of excessive force. He plans to review existing policy on force to determine if it must be modified.
“Inequities exist. I realize I have a certain amount of privilege to correct those inequities,” he said.
“I am excited to announce the hiring of Nishant Joshi as the next Police Chief of Alameda,” said Alameda City Manager Eric Levitt in a press statement. “Nishant Joshi has a deep understanding of the issues we are committed to addressing and is the right person to work with our community and lead the department forward.”
Joshi, who last served as deputy police chief in neighboring Oakland, said he was not looking to become a police chief. When the role opened up, several of his mentors contacted him and urged him to apply. “It was a bug in my ear, but I did nothing,” he said.
But then his wife Holly got involved. “If my wife thought I could do it, I had to do it,” Joshi said with a laugh.
Oakland Police Chief LeRonne L. Armstrong said in a press statement that he was proud of Joshi’s new role. “Although we are losing a deputy chief and a friend, we are gaining a neighboring partner with inside knowledge of OPD. Losing a member of my executive staff is a positive reflection of the progressive and forward-thinking of the Oakland Police Department, as many cities look at Oakland for public safety leadership in their communities.”
Joshi joined the OPD in 1998, as a police officer trainee. He said the city is unique: rich in culture, with a community who demands the best of its police department. “It has constantly been on the edge of forward thinking,” he told India-West, noting the large number of activists and progressive churches who make the city their home.
Joshi earned a B.S. degree in Criminal Justice from California State University, Hayward, and an M.A. degree in Organizational Leadership from Saint Mary’s College in Moraga. He and his wife Holly have three children: Jalen, 22, who serves in the U.S. Army; Jai, 15, and Aja, 11.
Joshi’s parents immigrated to the U.S. in 1976.