Published : Monday, March 12, 2018 | 3:56 PM
[Updated] Pasadena Chief of Police Phillip L. Sanchez in a statement on Monday afternoon announced his retirement, effective April 18.
Sanchez held the office since July, 2010. Deputy Chief of Police John Perez will assume the role of Interim Police Chief on Monday, March 19, a police spokesperson said.
“The decision to step away from serving my community is a difficult one which took much deliberation and careful thought,” Sanchez wrote. “For the past eight years I have had the honor of leading one of the nation’s finest law enforcement agencies, comprised of heroic men and women who serve with distinction in keeping our city safe.”
“Putting on the Pasadena Police Uniform every day has truly been a humbling experience,” he wrote.
Sanchez said he was proud of the progress the Police Department made during his tenure.
“We implemented various new technologies into our policing abilities including the Body Worn Camera program and enhanced community outreach with the Community Police Academy in both English and Spanish,” he wrote. “We have increased the diversity of the Police Department to reflect the community it serves, all the while enhancing our responses to terror threats at large events, while working hard to deliver exceptional police service.”
In his statement, Sanchez said he and his wife, Deborah, are “blessed to have a large family” and after his 38-year career in law enforcement, he looks forward “to spending time with all of them in the years ahead.”
He offered his thanks to Mayors Bill Bogaard and Terry Tornek, to the members of the Pasadena City Council, to City Managers Michael Beck and Steve Mermell. and “most of all, to the outstanding men and women of the Pasadena Police Department who will continue to serve this city with honor and humility.”
Under Sanchez, the Department was buffeted by a number of controversies. The pace seemed to crescendo this year as a widely-circulated video of a violent Pasadena police arrest led to protests and a lawsuit, followed by the Chief’s three-month refusal to remove the two officers involved in that arrest from street duty until last week’s sudden reversal reassigning them to desk duty; the arrest and charging with federal gun crimes of his former adjutant just ten days before his retirement; and looming lawsuit settlement or court proceedings related to the in-custody death of J.R. Thomas in 2016.
In 2012, the shooting of unarmed Kendrec McDade by Pasadena police drew national attention and was compared by Department critics to the death of Trayvon Martin. The Los Angeles County District Attorney cleared the officers involved of any criminal wrongdoing.
Sanchez’s tenure at the Pasadena Police Department coincided with the significant changes in American society wrought by the rise of social media and cell phone video technology, burgeoning technologies which radically affected policing and community opinions towards police and which placed Sanchez under increased scrutiny unlike anything his predecessors faced.
Those technologies fostered communication and connections among those opposed to the police, on different grounds, and supported the formation of a number new civil rights and activist groups whose members seemed to dog Sanchez at many public meetings.
What once was a finite series of demonstrations after a controversial incident — such as following the Feb. 19, 2009 police shooting of Leroy Barnes on the watch of former Chief Bernard Melekian — under Sanchez often evolved into long-lived movements, kept aflame by a constant stream of tweets and Facebook posts.
Cumulatively, those various protest movements persisted over the years and flared when new controversies emerged, making it all the harder for Sanchez and the department to move on.
Local anti-Pasadena police activists like Pasadena Black Lives Matters organizer Jasmine Abdullah Richards have been able to leverage social media to attract large followings.
After Pasadena police arrested Richards for attempting to free a prisoner from police custody during an August, 2015 melee in La Pintoresca Park, her followers were able to use the Internet to gather 57,900 signatures in five days on a letter of support for their position they presented to Superior Court Judge Elaine Lu before Richards’ sentencing.
Richards just last week at the City Council meeting demanded Sanchez’s firing.
Most recently, a cell phone video clip of a portion of the November 9, 2017 violent arrest of a young black man in Altadena by Pasadena police exploded across social and internet media.
The imagery of this video reminded many members of the public of the video shot of Rodney King on March 3, 1991, and prompted a vocal outcry across the United States.
The Los Angeles Times said the video “reignited the nation’s heated debate over how police use force and sparked outrage in a city with long-simmering complaints about how law enforcement treats African American men.”
Although social media may have become Sanchez’s nemesis, he and his department embraced new policing tools spawned by higher technology to keep residents safer.
The Department tested and deployed Automated License Plate readers, which instantly read the plates on all vehicles close to police vehicles and which have led to numerous arrests and the recovery of significant numbers of stolen vehicles.
In November, 2016 Sanchez directed the fielding of about 300 body-worn cameras on all Department employees, both sworn and non-sworn. The rollout came after years of testing.
Although the body-worn camera videos of the Altadena arrest of Chris Ballew proved controversial and less than effective in convincing the public his officers’ actions were proper, numerous other videos have supported police actions, eliminated spurious complaints against police, and invalidated claims of misconduct.
While the body cameras stole much of the limelight, Sanchez also oversaw the earlier launch of state-of-the art patrol car video camera systems that continuously records everything it sees, without officers being able to turn it off.
Leveraging the Internet, Sanchez also led his Department to use Spokeo, which is a personal information gathering service, to fight criminals. Although civil rights groups called the service an invasion of privacy, law enforcement points to the fact the information consists of already-public records tracked and gathered efficiently by the software.
Sanchez also used social media to recruit local students and made efforts to bridge the gap between police and local youth. He was known for attending a large number of local events and he almost always had his tablet at his side for photos to be posted on the Department’s Twitter feed.
Among the unfinished business Sanchez leaves is a new Community-Police Work Plan, which was reportedly in final stages of preparation, and involved closer outreach by police to community groups including the NAACP Pasadena branch.
City Councilmembers and Mayor Tornek did not comment yesterday on the news of Sanchez’s retirement.
Two frequent critics of the Department, civil rights attorney Dale Gronemeier and Kris Ockershauser of the Coalition for Increased Civilian Oversight of Pasadena Police, both wished Sanchez well and said they do not believe his departure will change what they see as the “problems with the Department.”
“While we wish the Chief well, his leaving is no guarantee that the crisis afflicting our police department will be resolved,” Ockershauser said.
Gronemeir said that Sanchez “has done many good things, including being very accessible to the community and being a strong disciplinarian.”
“While we have had our differences with Chief Sanchez, we have never called for his resignation or firing,” Gronemeier said. “We wish him the best as he leaves Pasadena.”