City Seeks Consultant to Evaluate Police Department

First published in the Oct. 22 print issue of the South Pasadena Review.

The city hopes to begin conducting an organizational assessment of the South Pasadena Police Department early next year, with an eye toward optimizing the operations of the department and outlining contemporary standards of conduct for its personnel.
After identifying a number of consulting firms with experience and qualifications, the city will kick off a formal bidding process through which candidates can compete for the task. Officials expect to award the contract early in 2022 as part of a wider series of assessments of city departments.

The move is supported by Police Chief Brian Solinsky, a longtime SPPD leader who this year was promoted from deputy chief to replace Joe Ortiz.
“Making sure we’re providing effective service to the city is really what it’s all about. We welcome it. It’s been something I’ve been talking about for a long time,” Solinsky said in a phone interview this week.
“Every organization, whether it’s Microsoft or Amazon, has to go through some level of this type of review to make sure they’re following industry best practices and that we’re delivering the services that South Pasadena residents expect,” he said.
City Manager Arminé Chaparyan, who also was hired this year, made the decision with backing from the Public Safety Commission and the City Council. She and other officials are hoping to procure an up-to-date model of organizational structure for the SPPD, its workload distribution and efficiency, information technology needs and policies regarding equity and officer conduct.
The move also follows calls last year by community groups and residents to re-envision the department amid nationwide protests over the murder of George Floyd by a Minneapolis officer and the defund-the-police movement.
Activists had decried a number of SPPD actions during that time, including the handling of separate incidents in which a bicyclist spat on a Black Lives Matter protester (a misdemeanor conviction was the eventual result), a motorist drove over a curb at the Fair Oaks Avenue-Mission Street intersection to confront another BLM demonstrator, and counter-protesters — some espousing far-right branding — were alleged to have intimidated BLM demonstrators.
Some locals have also criticized the SPPD for its actions leading up to the 2018 fatal shooting of actress Vanessa Marquez, who had been experiencing a long-term mental health crisis. After brandishing what turned out to be an imitation handgun, she was shot by officers attempting to detain her for a mental health hold. Internal and county-level reviews cleared the department of wrongdoing.
During last year’s City Council election, candidates often addressed questions related to police reform, whether in their campaign statements or their answers to questions at political forums.
Solinsky did not specifically mention such moments when discussing the assessment but acknowledged that it’s difficult for law enforcement entities to reform themselves through self-evaluation alone. This, he said, is why he welcomes outside perspectives with open arms.
“It’s to make sure that we are answering to the residents that we serve and providing them answers. There are a lot of people who are questioning the department, its actions and its values, and this is something that can answer those questions and build trust through transparency,” he said.
“As a new chief and with a new city manager, this is an opportunity where we can rebuild and shape the department, and really the city, in a manner that the residents desire and with what they expect,” Solinsky continued. “It’s difficult to do that when you’re looking through a narrow lens, so that’s why bringing in outside experts is so important.”
Solinsky noted that this process will go hand in hand with the city’s broader strategic planning initiative and hoped to get started sooner rather than later.
“I don’t want to put a timeline because there’s always something unforeseen,” he said, “but I’d really like to get it started in the first few months of the year.”