From left, South Pasadena City Councilmember Bob Joe, So Pas Mayor Dr. Marina Khubesrian, New So Pas Police Chief Joe Ortiz, So Pas Councilmembers Michael Cacciotti and Dr. Richard Schneider attend a private meeting Monday that also served as the new chief’s swearing-in ceremony. Photo by courtesy of South Pasadena

South Pasadena’s new police chief, Joe Ortiz, started work this past Monday with his eye on getting acquainted with the city of about 24,000 residents.

Ortiz, 55, former police chief in Sierra Madre, was introduced internally to So Pas city employees Monday at City Hall after an early  morning visit with the interim So Pas Police Chief, Brian Solinsky.

“I want to get to know the city, first thing,” Ortiz said in a brief telephone interview last week. “I’m going to be meeting with the city manager, who I haven’t met with since the interview process.”

Ortiz also was sworn-in Monday morning during a private ceremony for the City Council and city employees. The new chief also attended the So Pas Chamber of Commerce monthly ShopTalk breakfast meeting on Tuesday.

After the ShopTalk breakfast meeting Tuesday morning, Ortiz spent a few minutes discussing his plans for the immediate future, which he acknowledged was still being formulated because he’s been on the job for only two days.

“The Police Department’s primary goal is to fight crime and fight the fear of crime,” he said. “That will never change. That’s a 10 at the Police Department.” As an example, the city has been victimized with several commercial burglaries over the last couple weeks and he said the South Pasadena Police Department  (SPPD) has already beefed-up patrols.

“I believe in high visibility,” he said during the brief interview outside the breakfast meeting. “I’m working with Captain Solinsky to figure out strategies to reduce crime. We’re providing extra patrols 24/7 not only in the business district but the residential areas as well. Again, today is day two.”

Ortiz has been in law enforcement for a quarter century, according to city officials, having served as the Sierra Madre police chief since 2017. Ortiz joined the Sierra Madre Police Department (SMPD) in 2010 as a patrol sergeant and rose up through the ranks, becoming captain of operations and support divisions in 2014, according to the city’s announcement naming Ortiz as the new chief.

Prior to Sierra Madre, he served as a detective and corporal in the Glendora Police Department for 17 years. He is a veteran of the Air Force and the Air National Guard.

Police Chief Joe Ortiz takes the oath of office administered by Chief City Clerk Marc Donohue. Courtesy photos

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.

“I am very pleased to welcome Joe Ortiz to South Pasadena,” So Pas City Manager Stephanie DeWolfe said in the 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.”

As So Pas Chief, he will lead a department of 53, with 36 positions for sworn officers and 17 non-sworn staff members. The SPPD currently has four openings for sworn officers, according to authorities.

Ortiz said in the city’s announcement 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.”

The city took about eight months to replace Art Miller, who left the SPPD after five years to take over the helm of the Peoria, Arizona Police Department. Miller came from the Los Angeles Police Department where he earned distinction as captain of the busy Metro Division.

The lengthy search to replace Miller was criticized by some residents and community leaders when City Manager Stephanie DeWolfe decided not to have a community-based panel interview qualified applicants. Moreover, some on the city’s Public Safety Commission questioned DeWolfe taking so long to replace Miller, saying it’s arguably the most important position in the city and should not be subjected to such a time-lapse.

DeWolfe said that there wouldn’t be a community-based or public panel because confidentiality could not be guaranteed with such a group.

She said it’s “just industry best-practice for hiring a police chief that there not be a community panel.” However, other cities such as Pasadena have used community-based panels, critics allege.

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.

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,  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. She made the final decision.

However, DeWolfe acknowledged after the final interviews, she did consult with others before settling on Ortiz.

“I did speak with others,” she said at a recent community meeting over the city’s budget gap of more than a $1 million. “I consulted with some people before I made the final choice.”

Police Chief Joe Ortiz receives his badge after being sworn in during a private ceremony Monday morning.

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.

Also, 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, if not Solinsky, maybe the city would pull from a larger agency like the LAPD, where Miller came from. 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 an earlier 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.”

Ortiz base salary will be about $13,058 a month which is about 156,696 a year, according to city officials.

In 2017, Ortiz was reported as making $122,411.90 for his yearly base-pay while Sierra Madre police chief, according to transparentcalifornia.com.

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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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