Newly-Named Pasadena Police Chief John Perez Lays Out Priorities

Published : Wednesday, December 19, 2018 | 5:59 AM

Pasadena Chief of Police John Perez. Photo by James Carbone

Pasadena Now spoke with Pasadena’s new Chief of Police John Perez less than thirty minutes after his appointment was announced by City Manager Steve Mermell Tuesday afternoon to ask what priorities Perez has set for the Department for 2019.

Perez is a thirty-three year veteran of the Pasadena Police Department. He has led the Department as Interim Chief since the retirement of predecessor Chief Phillip Sanchez last April.

He was among three finalists interviewed by a community panel at the conclusion of a nation-wide search for a new Chief.

Mermell, who has the sole authority to appoint a chief under the City Charter, made the final decision to go with the homegrown veteran.

Under Perez’s watch as Interim Chief, crime in Pasadena has continued to drop, as have “use of force” incidents. His toughest challenges may lie ahead, should a high-profile critical incident occur which would test his leadership and the community’s relationship with his Department.

 

Pasadena Now: Chief Perez, you’ve been at the helm of the Pasadena Police Dept. now for a number of months as Interim Chief. How does this appointment change things? How do you intend to move forward from here?

Police Chief John Perez: What has changed, I think, is this is real. I appreciated the interim position. I got a chance to put some things into play for the Department, for the organization. The Department really stepped up, all the members of the organization got a lot of things accomplished during this past nine months, spending a lot of time collaborating between the police department and many people and organizations in the community. We got a lot of positive initiatives done where people felt better about the police department and I think the police officers and our employees felt better about the community. I think that’s important to make sure there’s a connection between the two. So my job over the last nine months was really to build a bridge between the community and the police department, and I think we did that.

Where we’re going from here is a set of priorities that we identified earlier last year. We’re going to stick to those and being better at what we do, and connecting more with the community, and really see what the priorities are in neighborhoods and focus on that.

Internally, organizational development is a big priority for us because learning and growing and changing when we need to is probably the best thing we can do for the community.

You know, [we] have a police department that is open to change and is looking for ways to be better. I think that becomes hugely important in what we do.

So going forward, it’s more of the same thing we’ve seen this past year, but with a little bit more effort knowing that this is now a long-term strategy. This is not trying to get us through the end of the year or next year. This is about what type of community we’re going to be five years from now, even 10 years from now.

PN: Looking forward, then, the priorities seem to be looking outward and looking inward at the same time. If you had to pick one or two of the essential core top issues, what heads your list?

Police Chief Perez: The top priority for us inside the organization continues to be national issues that hit us locally. And the three of those are really our use of force training, our community engagement and also accountabilities on the police department.

Secondarily, I’ll put it to internally making sure that the officers or employees enjoy the police department, enjoy the work that they’re doing. So we improve retention and continue to reduce our vacancy rates. And we’ve been doing that. We have single-digit vacancy rates. We have people that are really enjoying the type of work they’re doing inside the organization.

On top of those two, I think the third one is continually finding ways to use body worn cameras and keep learning from body worn cameras and using [them] to be a better organization, whether it’s community complaints that come in, whether it’s use of force or everyday activity.

I think we could really build a better police department using our body worn cameras.

So those really are the strategies that we’re looking at. I think with that we’re going to be a better police department in 2019 and going forward.

PN: Over the years that you’ve been on the Pasadena police department, you’ve obviously seen a number of officer-involved shootings. Have you thought through how you would handle such an event if it were to occur on your watch? Do you have a plan in mind already that you will execute should that unfortunate day come?

Police Chief Perez: Absolutely. It is more of a holistic approach to critical incidents, as we just developed a new policy to release body worn cameras in 45 days, number one, but secondly, trying to communicate with the public the facts of an incident and really showing people the narrative of what happened with an event, and sharing what we can with them.

That’s going to be hugely important for public awareness of an incident as well as internally providing the support for our officers involved in critical events, and let the public know that we should all be supporting our police department during those critical events is a top priority for everybody.

I think that’s one of the things that’s going to be very important for us [is] to ensure that the narrative of an incident will provide the facts of an event as well as ensure that we are requesting the community’s support for the police department during the investigations.

I think with that type of approach, the one missing element we’ve had as well is trying to provide a community response team for the trauma of critical incidents on families and people that we arrest and critical events that occurred where we could use outreach workers maybe with the health department to really look at ways to providing the liaison with the families or even victims of incidents, as well as the suspects that we arrest in critical events.

PN: What would you like to say to community members?

Police Chief Perez: For the community members, continue to support your public safety personnel with the police department. You see them, say hello, let them know you appreciate what they’re doing.

After that, I think I ask from the public when they hear about an incident anywhere in the country, know there’s usually more facts than that being provided. They [should] learn more about the events and the details of situations before they react, and after that I would ask if they try to involve themselves to volunteer to support either the police department or the community with a nonprofit.

PN: And would I be correct in assuming that you also would like to stress that, especially during the next few weeks if members of the public see something, they should say something?

Police Chief Perez: It’s not only important that when you see something suspicious, report it, but being familiar with your surroundings, even saying hello to people as you walk down the street provides a level of safety for people. I think just being aware of your environment, connecting with others and having a community is the safest strategy. I’ve seen that over the years. The more we connect, the more we know each other, the more we say hello to each other, you will see a safer community.

PN: Thank you very much.

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