By Nick Diamantides
Last Wednesday, Feb. 3, Long Beach City Manager Pat West announced he had selected Jim McDonnell as the city’s new chief of police. McDonnell, a 28-year veteran of the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD), had spent nearly the last 10 years as former LAPD Chief William Bratton’s top assistant. Recently, McDonnell had been second in command at the LAPD.
West’s decision to hire McDonnell has not been without controversy. When former Chief Anthony Batts resigned to become Oakland’s police chief last October, West said he would appoint someone from within the Long Beach Police Department to replace him. All three LBPD deputy chiefs, two commanders and a former commander now with another department applied for the position. Several weeks after Batts’s departure, West, at the urging of other officials, changed his mind and decided to expand the search to include qualified candidates from other law-enforcement agencies.
That decision angered several members of the city council, and West’s decision to hire McDonnell annoyed them even more, but now most of them seem to have accepted the selection. “I have heard from many people that he (McDonnell) is an outstanding person who is very qualified, and I look forward to working with him,” said 8th District City Councilwoman Rae Gabelich. “My concerns and disappointment are with the process that was used in the selection and that we had many outstanding candidates within the Long Beach Police Department.”
Other council members expressed similar views.
Steve James, president of the Long Beach Police Officers Association (POA), explained why he is still angry about the process West used. “Not only did he (West) say that he was going to hire from within, but he established the job bulletin, and they hired a consultant to run the in-house process for $7,500,” he said. “The job bulletin came out indicating that to qualify candidates needed to have experience as an LBPD commander or above. The process gave a time frame for candidates to turn in résumés and other paperwork. It had a closing date. It closed on a Friday at 4pm.”
James stressed that the following Monday at 4pm, after the recruitment process had been closed for three days, West announced that he had reopened it. That was done, according to James, after West had told all six candidates and the public that he was happy with the pool of candidates.
“We had six great candidates,” James said. “If we had only two or three, I could understand why the process might have needed to include people from outside the department, but Pat West changed the rules after the game had already ended.”
He added that, to add insult to injury, it was the consultant, not West, who notified the six candidates that the recruitment process had reopened and would include outside candidates. “To me, that is a complete lack of leadership,” James said. “We are talking about deputy chiefs that Pat West works with weekly if not daily, and he does not even call them to explain to them why he is changing this. I guess there is a very gray area between changing your mind and lying.”
James added that, as the selection process continued, the three in-house candidates that were excluded did not get a call informing them that they were not finalists until late on a Sunday afternoon– the day before the final interviews. And even then it was the consultant, not West, who phoned.
“The deputy chiefs and commanders who applied for the position are all good men who have been and continue to work hard to make the department better,” James said. “They were all basically slapped in the face. It is the process that we have a problem with, not the person who was selected.”
James said he believes McDonnell will be accepted and respected by most members of the LBPD. “Despite the horrific process that our department and our upper management were put through, I honestly think there will not be any long-term ramifications to the morale of the rank and file,” he said. “The deputy chiefs and commanders are also all professionals who continue to do a great job for the department, but one of the challenges that our new chief will face is trying to rebuild the bridges that our city manager has destroyed.” James stressed that one man cannot lead the LBPD by himself. “He is going to need those deputy chiefs and commanders that were treated in a reprehensible fashion,” he said.
West did not immediately return a phone call from the Signal Tribune, but in recent statements to the press he noted that while all the LBPD candidates were well qualified, his decision was based on what he believed was best for the LBPD.
In a phone interview, West did not respond directly to James’s comments, but he insisted that the city has a very good relationship with the POA. “We respect them, and they do wonderful work that helps us have the wonderful police department that we have today,” he said. ”I totally respect their feelings with regard to the change in process, but for me, as city manager, one of the most important decisions I can make is hiring a chief of police.”
West explained that he believes that he owes it to the residents of Long Beach to try to find the best person to hire for a position as important as chief of police. “That’s what I did, and we ended up selecting Mr. McDonnell,” he said. “I understand that this was painful for the POA. It was painful for me too not to choose one of our wonderful deputy chiefs because all three of them could have done the job. I just felt I owed it to the community to select the best and the brightest, which I believe is Jim McDonnell.”
West stressed that he has no animosity toward James, the POA or anyone in the LBPD.
In spite of his anger, James stressed that everyone accepts the fact that McDonnell is a proven leader. “He’s got 28 years with LAPD, and he has done some marvelous things there,” he noted. “I think he will be able to come here and build upon the traditions and successes we’ve had, and we look forward to that.”
McDonnell is highly esteemed in law-enforcement circles. In 2002, he was a candidate for the position of LAPD chief. At that time, he presented a plan for community-based policing that was later adopted by LAPD Chief Bratton as the means to reform and boost the morale of a police department that was reeling from the Rampart corruption scandal.
Many people also give credit to McDonnell for building bridges between the LAPD and the city’s diverse communities and political leaders.
McDonnell has lived in Long Beach since 1986. “I am looking forward to working with the men and women of the Long Beach Police Department and the community to help make a great city an even safer city,” he said in a recent statement to the news media. He stressed that during his entire career he has practiced “respectful and compassionate policing” and will continue to maintain that philosophy in Long Beach. McDonnell will take the helm of the LBPD in March.