In a somewhat surprising move, South Pasadena has named Joe Ortiz, a 25-year law enforcement leader who has served as Sierra Madre’s police chief since 2016, as the new police chief to head up the 36-person department here.

“I am very pleased to welcome Joe Ortiz to South Pasadena,” So Pas City Manager Stephanie DeWolfe said Saturday in a prepared statement announcing the selection of Ortiz as the new chief. “His community-based approach to policing, along with extensive experience in similar police departments, make him an excellent fit for our city.”

Ortiz is set to begin his new position on April 1, DeWolfe said. As chief, he will lead a department of 53, with 36 positions for sworn officers and 17 non-sworn staff members. The South Pasadena Police Department currently has four openings for sworn officers, according to authorities.

Ortiz said in the prepared statement that his approach to law enforcement is “contemporary, community-based policing.”

“I look forward to engaging with the South Pasadena community, police officers and staff, and the City leadership teams,” Ortiz said. “My predecessors have created a very strong department, and I’m excited to be able to build on that success with a collaborative approach.”

Ortiz also described his leadership style as “one of inclusion and relationship building with internal and external stakeholders to define and achieve common goals, citing the coalition building that led to broad support of the Sierra Madre Police Department’s strategic plan.”

Ortiz joined the Sierra Madre Police Department in 2010 as a patrol sergeant and rose up through the ranks, becoming captain of operations and support divisions in 2014 and chief in 2016, according to the announcement issued Saturday afternoon.

Prior to Sierra Madre, he served as a detective and corporal in the Glendora Police Department. He is a veteran of the Air Force and the Air National Guard.

“I’d like to welcome Chief Ortiz to the South Pasadena community,” said South Pasadena Mayor Marina Khubesrian. “His reputation in Sierra Madre is excellent, and I have full confidence that he will bring the same high level of service and dedication to our residents.”

Ortiz succeeds former South Pasadena Chief Art Miller, who left the City in August. Captain Brian Solinsky has served as acting chief since that time.

The nearly eight-month search to replace Miller was criticized by some residents and community leaders when DeWolfe decided not to have a community-based panel interview qualified applicants.

There were 21 qualified applicants that were considered before the field was narrowed down to seven individuals that were interviewed by two panels. The two panels were a professional panel comprised of sworn law enforcement executives and a city employee panel comprised of South Pasadena city workers.

The process to replace Miller, who left the city Aug. 18, 2018, to take over the helm of the Peoria, Arizona Police Department,  included an open recruitment process that lasted from November to just before Christmas of last year, followed by the two interview panels, and then DeWolfe’s final interviews.

There were seven individuals interviewed by the two panels, which narrowed the field down to four. Those four people were interviewed by DeWolfe, who made the final decision.

City officials also contracted with Teri Black & Company, an 18-year professional recruiter, to spearhead the search and process. Black held two public meetings to gather public input as to the qualities So Pas residents wanted in their top law enforcement officer as well as an online survey. The online survey allowed residents to have their input heard and was able to be accessed at www.surveymonkey.com/r/YQFWNM2. City officials say 81 people participated in the survey.

The city also gathered information by way of two public forums as to the qualities required for the chief, which included integrity, judgement, leadership and familiarity with the community.

Meanwhile, DeWolfe told the Public Safety Commission at a Dec. 10, 2018, meeting that there wouldn’t be a community-based or public panel because confidentiality could not be guaranteed with such a group.

“Just speaking for myself,” Ellen Daigle, commission chairwoman, said to DeWolfe at the time, “I have sat on this committee for six years and have been with two police chiefs and not to have somebody from our commission on the panel is a huge loss because I think as much as anybody who has gone through two police chiefs, seen them…seen what they did, met with them once a month, personally, not having one of us on (the panel) does not make a strong internal panel and certainly I think any of us would be happy to be very confidential. I think that would be a real loss.”

DeWolfe countered by saying as commissioners they’re part of the community and that would make them a community-based or public panel, which she excluded from having because it would limit the candidate pool. Some candidates, DeWolfe said, only would apply for the job if they are assured the process is confidential and a community panel does not assure that confidentiality.

DeWolfe explained the exclusion this way at that Dec. 10 meeting.

“I understand your concern, certainly,” she told the commission. “Unfortunately, it is just industry best-practice for hiring a police chief that there not be a community panel. If we were to go that direction, we would lose a significant number of potential candidates. We really can’t afford to do that. This city does not pay within a pay-band that we will get a large pool to begin with, and I really think it’s not in the best interest of the city to further reduce the pool of applicants that we will have available.”

Some residents and community leaders were pulling for Solinsky to be named as the next chief and were disappointed in hearing that he wasn’t selected. Also, they thought maybe the city would pull from a larger agency like the Los Angeles Police Department, where Miller came from, or the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department. The selection of a police chief from a small neighboring city was somewhat surprising, they said.

Solinsky said, though, that Ortiz is a strong addition to the local department and will continue to move it forward in a positive direction.

“Chief Ortiz has had a distinguished career in law enforcement and comes from a very similar type of city,” Solinsky said in a text to The Review. “The leadership skills he brings to South Pasadena will continue to move the department forward in a positive direction as we meet the upcoming challenges. I wish him well and look forward to working with him.”

Police Chief Art Miller concurred with Solinksy, saying Ortiz is a good fit for South Pasadena.
“I have worked with Chief Ortiz on several regional concerns over several years,” Miller said in a text to The Review. “He will be a good addition to the South Pasadena leadership team. He is committed to embracing the community and serving the the residents. The South Pasadena Police Department is staffed with people who share Chief Ortiz’s commitment to public safety. I wish him success and a seamless transition to the great South Pasadena community.”

Ortiz holds a Master of Science degree in Emergency Management and Bachelor of Arts in Occupational Studies from Cal State Long Beach, along with multiple certifications and professional affiliations. Ortiz is a resident of Claremont, married, with two adult sons, one of whom has followed in his law enforcement footsteps.

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Steve Whitmore is the editor for the South Pasadena Review. Steve has spent more than four decades as an award-winning print and broadcast journalist with a 16-year stint as the senior media advisor for the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department. Steve comes to us from the Keene Sentinel in Keene, New Hampshire, where he covered politics and was a columnist.

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