Police Search Down to One Candidate, Background Check is Nearly Complete

Former So Pas Police Chief Art Miller with City Manager Stephanie DeWolfe. City is poised to hire Miller’s replacement. Photo by Henk Friezer

The search to replace South Pasadena Police Chief Art Miller, who left more than six months ago, is just about over.

The city has narrowed the field down to one person, who is going through a thorough background check, and officials estimate an announcement soon.

The process to replace Miller, who left the city Aug. 18, 2018, to take over the helm of the Peoria, Arizona Police Department, has included an open recruitment process that lasted from November to just before Christmas, followed by two interview panels for a small group of finalists, one comprised of law enforcement professionals and the other with city employees.

The Peoria Police Department has about 200 sworn officers while So Pas has 32. Peoria had been looking for a new chief for about six months also and Miller was a finalist out of 55 applicants.

City Manager Stephanie DeWolfe had said she wanted to have a new police chief in place sometime in February but negotiations and other issues slowed the process, according to officials close to the search.

It’s unknown the number of applicants the city received during the open enrollment period, which lasted from November to midnight on Dec. 23, because officials have not yet released that information.

City officials 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 that offered three general questions. They included what leadership qualities and characteristics are most important to look for in selecting a new chief, the top three things the new chief needs address in the first year and what should they know about the community. The survey also allowed the survey respondent to offer any additional comments for DeWolfe to consider as well as were they a So Pas resident and their name.

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.

However, the search has not been without community concerns.

DeWolfe opted to exclude a community-based panel as part of the search process. As mentioned, the two panels were a professional panel comprised of sworn law enforcement executives and a city employee panel comprised of South Pasadena city workers.

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 during that Dec. 10 Public Safety Commission meeting, “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.”

Since that Dec. 10 meeting, Vice-Chair Greg Hall, the only Public Safety Commissioner with law enforcement experience, having retired as a captain from the Los Angeles Police Department with 35 years of service, resigned without comment at the next meeting on Jan. 14 of this year.

However, city spokesman Pope said that South Pasadena residents were represented on the panels after all.

“We are not releasing the names and affiliations of the panelists until the new chief is announced,” Pope said. “However, we can share that South Pasadena residents were represented, as two residents were among the panelists.”

Meanwhile, the city and Teri Black screened out candidates and had the panels interview the finalists. City officials have not released the number of finalists.

The final decision on who will replace Miller will be the City Manager’s and DeWolfe may be announcing a new So Pas Police Chief any day now.