By Nick Diamantides
Inspirational words and lofty goals moved like a gentle wind in the confines of the Terrace Theater last Saturday, bringing a sense of hope to the approximately 1,000 people who came to watch the swearing-in ceremony for Long Beach’s 25th chief of police– Jim McDonnell. Although the past couple of months were marred by acrimony over the fact that City Manager Pat West had selected someone who had not come up through the ranks of the Long Beach Police Department (LBPD), McDonnell and other city officials praised the leadership of the deputy chiefs and commanders in an obvious gesture of reconciliation.
After some music and dance performances by local groups, and the Pledge of Allegiance, Father Mike Gleeson, pastor of St. Cornelius Catholic Church gave the invocation. Among other things, Gleeson prayed, “on this day we hold in Your presence those responsible for peace, safety and security in our city.”
West went to the podium next. “It’s truly a great honor to present to this community the 25th chief of police for the City of Long Beach,” he said. West also thanked Acting Chief Billy Quach for keeping the LBPD on track during the past several months, and he praised the deputy chiefs who had also applied for the position of chief. West stressed that the LBPD is one of the finest police departments in the country, in large part because of the leadership provided by its deputy chiefs.
Then West gave a brief biographical sketch of McDonnell, adding that during the past three decades, McDonnell had worked his way up through the ranks to become second in command of the LAPD.
Long Beach Mayor Bob Foster spoke next. His comments were brief. He thanked the city council members and the leadership of the LBPD for their hard work and dedication to the city. Then he acknowledged that it was difficult to select “the best possible candidate” as the chief of police of Long Beach. “Jim McDonnell is one of the brightest law enforcement officers in the state. The residents of Long Beach can rest assured and rest easier knowing that a very capable individual is taking over the helm of our police department.”
At that point, former Governor George Deukmejian took the stage, to administer the oath of office to McDonnell who had also come forward. After McDonnell swore that he would support and defend the United States and California constitutions, and that he would faithfully discharge the duties of the office of chief of police, Deukmejian said, “Congratulations, Chief,” and the audience gave a long, loud, standing ovation.
McDonnell, who has been a Long Beach resident for 14 years, then gave an about 15-minute acceptance speech in which he lauded the accomplishments of the LBPD while pledging to bring it to higher levels.
“Transition periods are always tough – a lot of anxieties, speculation, comparisons and rumors,” he said, adding that the LBPD will now begin to move forward as a unified team.
McDonnell said that one of his top goals will be to make sure his officers have the best training tactics and equipment to keep themselves and the communities as safe as possible. He added that there are now tremendous opportunities for LBPD to advance the technology it uses to fight crime. He said he would like to see an increased use of surveillance cameras in high-crime areas. He also wants the LBPD to use more DNA analysis, computerized license plate scanners and other high-tech systems to apprehend outlaws. He said that such technological advances were an investment in public safety. “It is expensive, however I would make the case that it is an investment and not an expense,” he said, explaining that reducing fear and crime is good for business, commerce, and tourism.
McDonnell told the audience that a great police department is one that consists of officers who respect the people they protect, work hard, and operate under the principles of honesty, integrity and approachability. Those qualities “are the foundations of sustainable police-community relations,” he said. “We will look continuously for opportunities to improve (in those areas).”
The chief also stressed that he wants to revive community-based policing, which declined after 9-11. He explained that law enforcement officials, community leaders and residents have to focus on problem solving and quality-of-life issues, not just crime and other symptoms of underlying failures in a community.
After explaining in general terms how he hoped to make the LBPD better than it already is, McDonnell reminded the audience that police work is very dangerous and it is perhaps the most scrutinized profession in the nation. “Everyone is an expert on policing. Everyone has a strong opinion,” he said. “Even those who wouldn’t dream of doing a cop’s job for a single day.”
McDonnell said he was honored to be selected at the LBPD’s new chief. “It’s probably the highlight of my life,” he said. “But with that comes new opportunities and in many ways a fresh start.” He pledged that he would be asking for input and help from LBPD and city officials, as well as the general public.