Pasadena Police Chief John Perez told Pasadena Now on Sunday that he plans to retire at the beginning of 2022 after his final Rose Parade and Rose Bowl Football Game operation. “It’s been a fantastic and purposeful career but change is always good!”
The 37-year veteran has been under fire from critics since he cleared officers in the 2017 violent police stop of Christopher Ballew.
Ballew was punched and struck with a metal baton during the violent encounter that was captured on cellphone video by a passerby.
On Sunday, Perez told Pasadena Now the incident is not the reason behind his retirement.
“No matter what I do about critical incidents and how I respond, the Police Chief will always face criticism,” Perez said. “There is nothing you can do about that. That’s not a reason to leave the job, we put into motion the changes that were needed, and it is happening, the future of the department is emerging.”
Despite the Ballew incident, which happened before Perez became chief, and the fatal officer-involved shooting of Anthony McClain last August, which happened during Perez’s time as chief, Perez has increased transparency.
Perez released body-worn camera footage to reporters and the community well before the 45-day time limit on critical incidents as well as the name of the officer in the McClain officer-involved shooting.
He also ended a deal with the sheriff’s department that allowed the sheriff’s to provide oversight of critical incidents, a demand by local activists that had resulted in less information being revealed to the community.
During his tenure, a handful of officers were released from employment for various reasons, including two in 2021. He worked well with the police union in creating new policies on discipline and other accountability measures.
The department successfully implemented its first reorganization in decades with no cost to the city budget. The Chief established a critical performance team to design, implement, and review use of force and de-escalation techniques with positive measurable reductions.
After last year’s 85% increase in gun violence, 2021 has seen a 26% decline in violence and an overall drop in crime throughout the city, the lowest level in five years.
A trend Chief Perez estimates will continue years to come with continued commitment and dedicated effort to prevention & youth education as the top priorities.
He also drove the change to eliminate an antiquated gang enforcement model with an intelligence-led crime-fighting model, a wellness unit, new training curriculums, and a critical performance unit, all to increase performance, reduce stress, and improve de-escalation. He established a Chief’s Advisory Board early in his tenure to help the Department, the community, and the council, better understand oversight challenges. He also established the policing 101 series to improve community understanding of police practices with Q&A forums.
Perez also increased diversity in the department with more women, Black, and brown officers, and diversity within the leadership team to include Black Deputy Chief Cheryl Moody with a newly created civilian executive commander. A dozen more officers were added to the patrol deployment for visibility and prevention strategies as emergency response times dropped dramatically. Despite being pressured by the Council to increase the budget for more officers, Chief Perez’s reorganization plan did not increase cost to residents.
“I was at this decision in 2016 and 2018,” Perez told Pasadena Now. “My plan was only to serve as interim chief and make some hard policy decisions which we accomplished with the help of the union in how we reviewed discipline and assessed use of force incidents. The change also included how we recruited and retained personnel, filling vacancies now it is at its lowest level in years.
“We need to continue to attract and retain the very best from our local area so we don’t suffer the cost of millions of dollars to replace officers as we did in 2016.”
After graduating from West Covina High School in 1984, then serving as a police cadet right out of high school for two years, he was sworn-in by Chief James Robenson in 1987. Perez worked just about every detail in the department to include Patrol, SWAT, gang enforcement, undercover narcotics, internal affairs, even community relations, he’s done it all. He was part of many Department changes after the 1992 Los Angeles riots to include the Community Policing Plan for the Department throughout the 1990s. Under Chief Melekian, Chief Perez designed the counter-terrorism unit, responsible for the safety and security of all New Year’s operation and special events. During this time, he also pursued higher education, earning a master’s degree in behavioral science and later a doctorate in public administration.
When Perez took the reins of the department as interim police chief in 2018, the department was already under intense scrutiny at a time when the majority of the City Council opposed police oversight.
That criticism began in 2012 after the shooting death of unarmed teenager Kendrec McDade, the 2016 officer-involved death of Reginald Thomas Jr., More fuel was thrown on that fire with the illegal gun sales made by former Lt. Vasken Gourdikian, who was sent to prison, and the brutally violent arrest of Ballew.
When asked about the Ballew decision, which took three and a half years, Perez said, “I am sorry for what happened to all those involved and for our community, I had to view it carefully which is difficult to do when a decision is required. The outcome was the impetus in re-evaluating our internal training curriculum and how we prepare officers for critical incidents.”
“Although the officers involved in the Bellew incident performed per policy and responded to the dynamics presented, it was also an opportunity to change our prior practices.”
Chief Perez inherited the Ballew situation after Police Chief Phillip Sanchez resigned. Perez himself will likely leave behind the McClain case for the next chief.
McClain was shot twice on Raymond Avenue in Northwest Pasadena on Saturday, August 15 while fleeing police during a traffic stop for a missing front license plate.
“We inherit all old policies and policing models and any new critical incidents that occur,” Perez said. “The McClain case is not because of the prior chief, I own the incident. These things happen in the field. Just because it didn’t happen on your shift, a new Police Chief is required to make difficult decisions on prior events and continue to reinvent and assess the department after every new critical event regardless of the outcome.
“Whoever takes this job could walk in and make a different decision regarding the officers involved in the shooting or take a different course on everything implemented under my command, from policy to training programs, the department is theirs to run.”
Perez said he has informed City Manager Steve Mermell who will notify the council. He called the City Manager the best in the business and said the challenge for the next chief will be navigating the Public Safety Committee, the Chief’s Advisory Commission, the Civilian Oversight Commission, and an Independent Auditor.
“I understand how to navigate the various oversight boards, but the next chief is going to have an initial challenge because conflict can emerge over final authority on changes.”
Perez said in the end he felt the timing to retire in 2022 was good timing and allows the Department to continue its growth and ongoing transformation.
“I could do this job for another ten years but at some point, leaders have to allow the organization to grow without them and that time is coming in 2022.