By Jennifer Erickson | LB Indy
Integrity, the ability to interact compassionately with the community and an understanding of the uniqueness of Laguna Beach are among the top qualities residents hope their new police chief will possess.
These and other preferences surfaced at a forum held this past Tuesday, Sept. 9, to gauge public opinion on desirable traits for the next police chief, the direction of the police department and what the police are doing right.
Police Chief Paul Workman retired last month and it is up to City Manager John Pietig to hire his successor.
Prompted by City Council members Steve Dicterow and Toni Iseman, Pietig organized the forum to allow residents the chance to voice their thoughts on the person who will lead a department with a $14.7 million budget, 86 full-time employees, including 49 sworn officers, and over 50 seasonal and volunteer personnel. He promised to also seek the Council’s opinion and meet with the police employees association.
There will be open recruitment, with applications accepted from outside and within the department. The department’s two captains, Darin Lenyi and Jason Kravetz, are eligible for consideration should they apply. After an evaluation of as many as 10 candidates, the top three candidates will be subject to reference and background checks. Pietig may make a job offer or go back to the drawing board.
Before ceding the floor to participants, Pietig outlined the department’s responsibilities. More visible are the criminal and accident investigations, traffic and parking enforcement, emergency response, animal services, and downtown foot and bike patrols. Less visible duties include liaisons with community groups, management of records, property and evidence, and operation of the city jail, among others.
“I’m here to listen,” said Pietig. The feedback would likely be “something we will refer to during the selection process,” he said.
Among the 19 speakers, variations on themes of integrity, community relations, trust and local knowledge surfaced again and again, along with calls for good management and leadership skills.
Howard Hills, president of the Laguna Beach Republican Party, though appreciative of crime prevention and public safety efforts, criticized the department for failing to cultivate better police-community relations.
There is a “high level of concern and dissatisfaction in the conduct of the police” that the new chief should address as well as a lack of adequate due process for citizens with grievances, said Hills, an attorney.
Dave Vanderveen voiced similar concerns, noting that youth often have a low regard for the police by the time they finish high school. He pushed for a new police chief who would embrace taking citizen and police interaction to a new level.
John Firestone and Tijana Hamilton both described experiences with unnecessarily rude police officers.
Firestone hoped the next chief would “understand the difference between antagonistic and community policing.”
Hamilton called for a chief who could balance rigorous protection with gentler community interaction.
“I have a different feeling entirely about our police than what we’ve just been hearing,” countered Bonnie Hano, who recounted a positive experience in seeking help at the police department. Yet she also favored a police chief with compassion and consideration, preferably someone who lived in town and “really understood Laguna.” Others shared her sentiments.
Chad Pohle, director of security for the Montage resort, spoke to the value of training that local officers had already undergone and professed to be a “strong believer” of promoting from within.
Resident Lorene Auger, on the other hand, preferred finding a new police chief outside the department “to avoid cronyism.”
Arnold Hano offered a compromise. He proposed that a neighbor, Julian Harvey, a 25-year resident and deputy police chief in Anaheim, fits the profile of an insider who is outside the department. He didn’t know if Harvey would apply.
Other desirable attributes included strong experience in narcotics enforcement to keep kids away from drugs, expanding foot patrol operations and outreach to the homeless, including training more officers to interact appropriately with the homeless, and looking at the justice system differently, with an eye toward rehabilitation over punishment.
Detective Larry Bammer, president of the Laguna Beach Police Employee’s Association, said he attended the forum to hear what people had to say before the association’s own meeting with Pietig. Many of the issues raised by the public “are also things that our members want to see,” he said. “We are very much on the same page.”