Tiger talks with new South Pasadena Police Chief Joe Ortiz

Following South Pasadena Police Chief Art Miller’s resignation, Joe Ortiz, formerly the police chief of Sierra Madre, was selected by the City of South Pasadena to take over the position. As the incoming leader of the South Pasadena Police Department, Ortiz will face numerous challenges within South Pasadena to support community projects and South Pasadena’s schools, and to address the problems surrounding the death of ER actress Vanessa Marquez during an officer-involved shooting. Ortiz was sworn in during a private ceremony on Apr. 1 and the city held a ceremonial swearing-in on Monday, Apr. 29.

TIGER: It’s been almost a month since you’ve stepped into your role as police chief. What has your experience in South Pas been like so far What do you enjoy most about the South Pas community and SPPD?
ORTIZ: It’s been amazing, absolutely amazing. The community, the residents, my colleagues and staff have been very welcoming and have been happy to have me on board. The staff and personnel and their skill sets have been amazing, they are all key players. This is only week four and I enjoy coming to work. It’s extremely satisfying to come and work collectively with a bunch of folks who share the same vision and who have the same want and desire provide a full service community to its residents. We’re all on the same page and we share the vision of the city council and manager. We have the tools and resources to execute this vision.

How is South Pas different from Sierra Madre, and how do you plan to adjust to cater to South Pas’ needs?
The demographics are the same [but] the population is double, almost triple in South Pas. Here in South Pas we have commercial business and industrial business. We have a bigger and more robust downtown area. We work with traffic signals, which we don’t have in Sierra Madre. There is much more staff to do the things needed and get the job done. Some important things are recruitment and retention — the ability to build relationships with the community members. You need to be transparent in the things that you do. I am a big advocate of training and sending employees to training to keep up on the contemporary training styles so that they have the skill sets to do their job. It’s all about being a part of a team. You have a police department, fire department, and public works with their own ideas. The focus here is that we share a vision together in a safe city and provide full service opportunities to our residents.

Art Miller was well-respected as police chief here for the last five years. Have you gotten the chance to talk to him and did he give you any pieces of advice?
I have. Chief Art Miller was really engaged in the community. He made it a point to be really transparent on how he operated. He was a very outgoing person, I know Art Miller on a personal side of things. I had a long conversation with him as soon as I got sworn in so he could give me an update on some things that were still needing attention. He left the department in good hands when he left. I’ll push forward with his vision and his ability to provide an energetic type of relationship with the community. I hope to continue to push forward with his same energy and enthusiasm.

What are your own personal goals for the community and SPPD?
I think my personal goals mirror the goals of the city manager and the council. I think they want to provide a safe city. They want to be able to look to the police department to not only fight crime, but fight the fear of crime. We want to make this a working environment and culture that people, like myself, want to come to work. This is a good place. This is a department that has the ability to promote growth within. I am all about giving our folks on the inside an opportunity to develop. I use the example of our robust cadet program and parking control officer program. What we’re fortunate enough to do here is to take from that pool of applicants and they become our future officers and dispatchers.

Are you planning open community outreach/ are you planning to allow South Pasadena’s citizens to be more involved in promoting city security and being informed about current events?
We can always do better with communication. The city, under the direction of the city manager, is to put communication at the top of what we’re doing. Not only within the staff, but to communicate our vision and ideas. We want to update our community and residents on a weekly basis. Since we’re so engaged with our council and residents of the community, we do a pretty good job on updating them on what’s going on and where we plan to go. The South Pas community is very engaged, they have a lot of interest in how things work and we invite those ideas and we invite the creativity to work with city staff to solve problems. I will tell you whether you are a police chief or fire chief, quality of life issues can be difficult at times. We as a team address those quality of life issues immediately. We are very fortunate to have the staff to treat both quality of life issues and real emergencies.

You’re stepping in at a time where the spotlight seems to be on SPPD, especially following the officer-involved shooting of Vanessa Marquez in August 2018, which is currently under investigation by the L.A. Sheriff Department. Do you have a role in this investigation or any thoughts?
I don’t really have any thoughts or opinions, this is only week four. I don’t have any opinions on something that happened in August 2018. I heard just like everyone else heard in the paper, I haven’t looked into the investigation yet. I am aware of it and I am aware that we are waiting for some findings to come back from the sheriff department. But I don’t have a personal comment.

What do you plan to do as chief to address any community concerns regarding the Marquez shooting?
I think my vision and the city manager’s vision is to at the end of the investigation and the findings to have some type of town hall meeting and invite the public to attend. We want to provide the facts on the case. In a transparent world that we live in there are no secrets. I think my job and the department is to provide the public and residents with the facts. We can’t change your mind on things, but my job isn’t to change your mind, my job is to provide the facts. Maybe after this investigation is done, I’ll work with the city manager to put on some type of presentation at a meeting. I think that would be a step towards better communication and addressing community concerns.

In terms of South Pas schools, there have been several threats of violence in the recent years. How do you plan on working with the schools to ensure student safety?
The focus is to improve our community outreach, that is also our schools, not just residents. We’re very involved in our schools. We provide lots of different training to school supervision and we work hand in hand with the folks on campus to provide training for an incident at the school. It’s a very good working relationship that the police department and fire department have with our school district. Recently I met with the superintendent of [SPUSD] and we had a long conversation. He drove me around the schools and shared concerns with traffic, concerns with different parts of buildings, and provided me with insight into new upgrades coming to the schools. We communicate as often as possible.

What are some long term plans that you have for the city right now?
The big focus right now is on recruitment and retention. We’re looking to rebuild and actively hire and train personnel. It’s not my vision, it’s our vision. I see some very exciting things coming our way. I have the opportunity to work with a forward-thinking city manager who has a lot of great ideas that have evolved. I understand they are looking into some upgrades into the downtown area. We have a strategic plan that we have all agreed on. We work towards it as a team, I think it’s going to be very good here in the city.

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