Welcome Tour Continues for New So Pas Chief of Police

The new South Pasadena Police Chief, Joe Ortiz, was welcomed into the city’s family recently by the Fire Department at a luncheon celebratrion that was held in the large bay of the department. Courtesy photo of the So Pas Police Dept.

South Pasadena’s new police chief, Joe Ortiz, started work this past Monday and has been welcomed “into the city family,” as one official said.

This past Thursday, Ortiz was welcomed into the South Pasadena family by the Fire Department. The event was a catered lunch with the highlight being a welcome cake, saying, “Welcome to the South Pasadena Police Department, Chief Ortiz.” The event was held in the Fire Department’s engine bay area and the parking lot behind the Police Department.

Ortiz said he was excited to be on the job and was counting the days.

“This is day four,” a smiling Ortiz said at the Fire Department ceremony on Thursday, April 4.

Ortiz, 55, former police chief in Sierra Madre, was introduced internally to So Pas city employees first thing Monday morning after meeting with the interim So Pas Police Chief, Brian Solinsky. Monday, April 1, was his first official day on the job.

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

City Manager Stephanie DeWolfe said there would be a public ceremony for residents later in the month. After the ShopTalk breakfast meeting Tuesday morning, Ortiz spent a few minutes discussing his plans for the immediate future, which he acknowledged were 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 believes that police need to be seen throughout the city and it’s the high-visibility that can keep crime in check.

From left, South Pasadena Fire Chief Paul Riddle and newly hired So Pas Police Chief Joe Ortiz at a meeting this week where the chief was introduced. Photo by Steve Whitmore

“When people don’t see police they do things they shouldn’t and I will tell you that traffic collisions as far as I know in the city have dropped because of the visibility of our police officers,” Ortiz said. “In addition to doing traffic enforcement and being involved in quality of life issues with our residents and just getting out there and involving ourselves in the schools and the businesses, I think we’re doing well.”

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.

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.

Ortiz also said that he was grateful for the support that the community affords the department.

“I am grateful for the community support,” he said. “Grateful for the welcoming by City Hall as a new employee from the outside in. The welcome from my Police Department. I had my entire department show up yesterday. Whether they worked last night or the night before, they showed up to show their support. That says everything. That’s where we are at.”

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.

Sierra Madre had some challenges while he was at the department. He was not the chief but there were concerns about funding for the department, which prompted an exodus of officers.

Ortiz said during those challenging days at Sierra Madre he discovered again the need for community engagement.

“I have to tell you that engaging a community is a 10,” he said. “No matter where you work, engaging the community, establishing the network of people in the community. Making people primary is extremely important. Making people important is a 10 and I think we do that here.”

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.

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.

Solinsky, who was the acting captain during the search and applied for the position, said Ortiz is a strong addition to the local department and will continue to move it forward in a positive direction.

“Chief Ortiz is a welcome addition to the ranks of the South Pasadena Police Department,” Solinsky said in an email to The Review. “I have had several conversations with him about our organization, other city departments, and the community. He values the partnerships the organization has developed in the City and looks to strengthen and increase others. Chief Ortiz really understands community policing and the expectations South Pasadena has for its Police Department. With his law enforcement background and experience, Chief Ortiz has the skillset to lead the Police Department in the right direction and accomplish great things. I am looking forward to his leadership and working with him.”   

Ortiz’s 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.