Interim Police Chief Perez Delivers Far-Reaching Plans for Department

Work plan includes Ballew arrest investigation and wide-ranging community outreach

Published : Thursday, April 19, 2018 | 5:33 AM

Pasadena Interim Chief of Police John E. Perez, who assumed command of the department on April 18, 2018.

Pasadena Interim Chief of Police John E. Perez, who assumed command of the department on April 18, 2018, pictured earlier this week.

Interim Police Chief John E. Perez, in his first appearance before a City Council committee, delivered a far-reaching and ambitious plan for the Pasadena Police Department Wednesday evening, as part of his first Chief’s Monthly Report.

The report was notable in that it spoke to several specific community concerns and complaints including the topics of police misconduct and the violent 2017 arrest of Altadena resident Christopher Ballew, which resulted in head injuries and a broken leg.

Said Perez, in opening his report, “Our approach includes a learning environment focused on enhancing awareness, understanding, and relationship building between the Community and its Police Department.”

Perez added that the change in command of the department “provides a unique opportunity to undertake an assessment of various issues currently facing the department.”

The department has now hired the Washington D.C.-based Police Foundation to perform an independent review of the controversial death of Reginald Thomas Jr., while in police custody in 2016, as well as a wide-ranging overview of the Department, Perez said.

“The Police Foundation will,” he said, “conduct an independent assessment of outreach efforts and programming and will make recommendations for comprehensive and sustainable initiatives to increase community engagement. A written report will be presented.”

In his report, Perez described the Foundation as a “nationally recognized leader in advancing policing through innovation and science in a variety of ways, including the review of critical incidents, as well as implementing best practices.

As described on their website, “The purpose of the Police Foundation is to help the police be more effective in doing their job, whether it be deterring robberies, intervening in potentially injurious family disputes, or working to improve relationships between the police and the communities they serve. To accomplish our mission, we work closely with police officers and police agencies across the country, and it is in their hard work and contributions that our accomplishments are rooted.”

The Foundation will develop a quarterly training for all members of the Department, with specifically-designed community education and enrichment courses.

Perez reported that “By the end of May over 300 employees will have engaged in principled policing education through the State’s Peace Officers Standards & Training Commission. The educational platform is focused on community relationships, fairness, respect, & trustworthiness, as well as avoiding labeling and improving communication.”

The Foundation will also undertake a review of the Department’s Gun Purchase Waiver letter for sworn employees over the last three years. Former Police Lieutenant Vasken Gourdikian was indicted in March for allegedly selling more than 100 guns illegally, and subsequently resigned from the force.

Up until June 2017, Pasadena police officers—similar to other sworn law enforcement officials throughout California—have been able to request such letters from their employer as allowed by California law. The letters can be used by officers to seek a waiver of the 10-day waiting period for personal firearm purchases or other authorization to purchase rifles not available to the public. Then-Police Chief Phillip Sanchez, who had reportedly signed numerous such letters, temporarily suspended the practice.

The investigation of the Chris Ballew incident will be undertaken by the Foundation, “under the auspices of the City Attorney relying on the information contained in the criminal investigation as well as an Administrative review conducted by the Pasadena Police Department Command Staff relying on information available to the Professional Standards Unit.”

The Foundation will prepare a report for the City Manager “suitable for public release,” said Perez.

Perez also told the Committee that the Foundation will establish a community education program by “integrating current Pasadena police officers, community members, youth groups, and organizations by involving Pasadena police officers in student education at local high schools to teach, mentor, and interact with young people.”

Enrichment programs such as Pasadena Activities League, Police Explorers, Kids Safety Academy, and the Community Police Academy are only a few examples of effective community engagement outside of traditional policing services, said Perez.

The Foundation will also facilitate engagement sessions between the Community and the Department to better understand one another and the dynamics of policing in Pasadena, Perez reported.

In addition, it will also begin to incorporate police training for community members, reported Perez, “to provide awareness and challenges to community engagement as well as education on policing operations.”

The Foundation will also “assess the need for a Police Auditor in Pasadena and make recommendations to the City Manager regarding any proposed structure changes with regard to reporting to City Manager, Police Chief, contract or in-house staff.”

Chief Perez also told the committee that he would develop a Chief’s Advisory Council “to provide input on issues facing our community.”

“These internal and external engagements further the Department’s current effort in building a learning organization and improving our skill sets in various areas of de-escalation, mental-health awareness,” said Perez in his report.

Taking a longer view of the department and its role, Perez said, “As events nationwide demonstrate, Police Departments everywhere must build stronger and more positive relationships with the communities they serve. Both in and outside of traditional policing services, police officers should engage with residents & business owners, community organizations, and as participants in neighborhood activities, to build trust, improve communication, to reduce crime and to improve the quality of life.”

Perez also told the Committee that “Internally, there is work to do within the Pasadena Police Department to build trust and confidence, to address the perception that much of law enforcement is under attack and to identify priorities for improving our own organizational culture.

“Externally,” Perez continued, “there is work to do as the Department more effectively engages the community to identify perceptions, needs and expectations as well as to outreach and educate on various facets of the Department; this engagement involves non-profits, educational and faith-based institutions and other community organizations.

Perez also pointedly reported that the Department will “include better communication with our local media outlets, an important and valued partner in building a better community.”

The Department, beginning in April, also established an organizational development strategy to “enhance training efforts and expand the Department’s knowledge and understanding the community we serve,” said Perez’ report. A three-part, State-certified Principal-based Policing course will be implemented, and will “focus on community/police relations and increasing public trust and confidence.”

“This plan is ambitious and daunting,” said Mayor Terry Tornek, a member of the Public Safety Committee. “I look forward to the work. It’s a broad scope and a real challenge.”

Local civil rights attorney and frequent police critic Dale Gronemeier, following the meeting, said, “The Pasadena Police Department is in good hands. I am confident that he will do well.”

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