INGLEWOOD — The appointment of a California Highway Patrol official as the city's new police chief has angered some police officers who favored a promotion from within, but has drawn praise from those who wanted a minority chief in the ethnically changing community.
Raymond L. Johnson, a California Highway Patrol deputy chief and the CHP's highest-ranking officer in Los Angeles County, will take over the Inglewood post June 2. A black, Johnson succeeds Joseph T. Rouzan, the South Bay's first black police chief, who retired in January to become a security consultant for Los Angeles International Airport.
City Manager Paul Eckles, who selected Johnson from about 100 applicants, said he was impressed with his administrative and leadership experience. He said he doubts Johnson will have a difficult time fitting into the department.
"Our past two police chiefs have been outside hires and they haven't had any real problems," Eckles said. "You can't blame (police officers) for having a sentimental attachment and feeling that the (chief) should be someone from their own ranks. But all the people in the department are professionals and I don't think they will harbor any bad feelings about the new chief."
In making his decision, Eckles said, he had to weigh the benefits of hiring a veteran Inglewood officer familiar with the community against the benefits of bringing in an outside candidate who could look at the changing community with fresh eyes.
During the past 15 years, Inglewood has changed from a mostly white community to a city where 80% of the 98,900 residents are minorities. Minorities make up 28% of the Police Department's sworn officers, most of whom do not have enough experience to be considered for the chief's job, Eckles said.
Former Police Chief Rouzan increased the number of minority members on the force by 13% during his 4 1/2-year tenure. Of the Inglewood Police Department's 185 sworn officers, there are 29 blacks, 18 Latinos and 6 Asians.
Inglewood police officers' and management unions had opposed going outside the department to find a new chief. They declined to comment after Johnson's selection, but some spokesmen said privately that there is bitterness over the decision.
"I can't think of a more morale-busting selection," one said.
'Will Be Looking Elsewhere'
And the leading inside candidate, Deputy Police Chief Robert Gavney, said: "Let's just say I will be looking elsewhere for another job."
Gavney had the backing of both unions and won support from some community groups that originally favored going outside the department to hire a minority.
"At first we favored hiring a minority police chief," said Frank Denkins, vice president of the Chamber of Commerce and member of the Inglewood Breakfast Forum, a largely black group of business people and homeowners.
"We thought it would be nice to have a minority police chief, but there are no minorities in the department that are eligible for the position. We later changed our course of thinking after we met with Gavney. He seemed like he knew all the nooks and crannies in the community. We were convinced that he would work to increase the number of minorities in the department."
He called Eckles failure to promote Gavney "a shame" and "a slap in the face."
Johnson's appointment was lauded, however, by community and business groups that feared that a white chief selected from within the department might not continue efforts to hire more minorities.
"With this new police chief the city is saying yes, we are committed to increasing the number of minorities in the Police Department," said Don McClure, a 14-year resident and an official of the Concerned Citizens of Inglewood, a civic group.
"It is great to see that the city has hired someone who is likely to continue on with the minority hiring policies Chief Rouzan has started," McClure said. "I know the city's hiring standards go beyond the whole black-white issue, but I think in this case a black officer might be able to understand this community better.
Johnson, who currently heads a staff of more than 1,200, said he does not expect any problems. "I hope everyone in the department and the community as a whole will realize that our goals should be common goals," said Johnson, who was a finalist for the position 4 1/2 years ago when Rouzan was hired.
Can't Afford Divisions
"The city has to have faith in the city manager and his selection. We can't afford to have divisions in the Police Department," Johnson said.
Johnson's law-enforcement career has been a succession of firsts. He was the first black motorcycle officer in the Bakersfield Police Department and the CHP's first black sergeant, lieutenant, captain, assistant chief and deputy chief.
A resident of neighboring Ladera Heights, Johnson, 50, is divorced and has a grown daughter. He will be paid $67,000 a year.