Hermosa Beach’s police department will be under new leadership after the City Council abruptly moved to end interim Police Chief Steve Johnson’s over year-long reign and bring in newcomer Mike McCrary.
“It’s my expectation that Mike is going to help us evaluate and move forward,” City Manager Tom Bakaly said, adding that bringing someone from the outside is the best way to secure an objective process in finding a new chief.
According to a police source, Johnson will continue at the police department as his previous job as captain. Johnson became interim chief after long-time Chief Greg Savelli stepped down in January 2012 for a new position at the Department of Transportation.
The city will also be conducting a second round of recruitment and will begin a three to four-month long $75,000 comprehensive Fire and Police study. The funding was previously appropriated from the City Manager’s Contract Services account in late February.
The approximate 135-day study, conducted by the Internal City/County Management Association (ICMA) will analyze emergency services in Hermosa Beach. The aim is to examine the department’s organizational structure and culture, compare the state of the department to industry standards and best practices, increase efficiency, identify workloads and recommend appropriate staffing.
“I want to acknowledge Steve Johnson for his stellar work,” Councilman Mike DiVirgilio said during the Tuesday meeting. “He did 15 months as interim. I want to applaud him publicly for doing it and doing his best… I’m not sure how this will impact him, but I hope he walks away from his interim experience knowing that we value him and his effort.”
McCrary, a retired police chief in Los Alamitos, Signal Hill and Wheatland, has also served as assistant city manager and interim public facilities director in other cities. For nine years he worked in Palm Springs, where he achieved the rank of lieutenant.
“Michael McCrary has extensive experience managing police departments and working in communities similar to Hermosa Beach,” Bakaly said in a press release. “His experience in Palm Springs – where Spring Break draws large crowds – would help guide Hermosa Beach through its summer-time activities and Fourth of July celebrations.”
The new chief will be paid $13,000 a month for a term of three to six months. Due to the extended search for a permanent police chief, however, some council members recommended that the city manager expedite the process and find a chief in the next three months.
“I worry about the impact of a body not having a dedicated leader,” DiVirgilio said. “I [recommend] we hightail it and find our police chief sooner rather than later, three to four months being max, and that we kick it off immediately.”
He added that when Bakaly was hired, one of his two goals, along with drafting a strategic plan, was to hire a permanent chief.
“If we cross into out next review period in August… and that second goal hasn’t been done, I’m concerned with our relationship and the feedback we’ll have to give Tom,” said DiVirgilio.
Other councilmen voiced concern about putting pressure on Bakaly to find the right fit for the department, and warned that haste won’t help.
“We are in the process of hiring a leader,” Mayor Kit Bobko said. “That’s the most important thing to be repeated over and over.”
Councilmember Howard Fishman underlined the importance of finding the right person. Councilmember Peter Tucker added that a 30-day progress report would help the process and if it goes over 90 days it would not be a problem if the process was communicated to the council.
“Tom – go fourth and conquer,” Bobko said, later adding, “Be quick, but don’t hurry.” ER