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Outsider Gets Top Police Job to Smooth Rift : Law enforcement: Plain-talking, well-liked chief from Montclair chosen to unite a department torn by dissension.

April 01, 1993|HOWARD BLUME | TIMES STAFF WRITER

DOWNEY — City officials have named Gregory C. Caldwell, a plain-speaking cop who rose through the ranks to become a well-liked police chief in the small town of Montclair, to head Downey's dissension-racked Police Department. Caldwell, 47, will take over for D. Clayton Mayes on May 1.

"Greg Caldwell inspires confidence through a few well-chosen words (and) appreciates and encourages professional development of his staff," Councilwoman Joyce L. Lawrence said. She also praised Caldwell's sense of humor.

Caldwell must unite a department where rank-and-file officers objected openly to Mayes' promotion decisions and volunteered to forgo raises if the city would fire Mayes.

Officials of the city and the police officers association agreed that the next chief needed to be from the outside, someone who had not already taken sides.

"We need to bring in somebody who could bring the department back together," City Manager Gerald M. Caton said.

Caldwell, who will earn $97,000 a year, was the top choice of a review panel. Caton made the final recommendation to the City Council, which voted unanimously Tuesday to hire Caldwell.

One edge for Caldwell was his nine years of experience as police chief in Montclair, a city of 29,500 on the western border of San Bernardino County. He has already shown that he can do the job, albeit on a smaller scale, officials said. The Downey Police Department has about 120 officers and about 50 civilian employees. Montclair has 52 officers and 27 civilian employees.

Caldwell, an ex-steelworker, joined the Montclair department in 1967 and became chief in 1984. Consultants working for Downey recruited him.

"I wasn't looking for a job," Caldwell said. "But the Downey Police Department is a good police department and it's probably time for me to recharge my creative juices."

The loss in Montclair will be substantial, said Detective Mike Emery, secretary of the Montclair Police Officers Assn.

"He's a tough man, tough because he says it like it is," Emery said, "but once you get to know him, you realize he's a fair and honest man, full of integrity."

Caldwell demanded performance without alienating officers, Emery said. "If you screw up, you'll pay for it. But if you do right, he'll back you up.

Caldwell has lived most of his life in Upland, just north of Montclair. He is married and has two grown children and two grandchildren. He is a member of the advisory board of the House of Ruth, a shelter for battered women in Claremont.

The veteran police commander said he takes particular pride in efforts to clean up a 10-block Montclair neighborhood packed with run-down apartments, gang members and drug dealers. Officers had named it the War Zone.

Caldwell helped organize police, building inspectors, fire safety officers, neighborhood groups and public agencies to fight crime, in part, by making the War Zone a nicer place to live.

In 1988, the troubled neighborhood accounted for 20% of Montclair's residential burglaries and 19% of all crimes. By last year, those numbers had declined to 12% of residential burglaries and 7% of total crimes.

"There's more to crime fighting than putting bad guys in jail," Caldwell said.

He acknowledged, however, that he has been disappointed that Montclair's crime rate overall has risen during his tenure. To combat the problem, Caldwell insisted on starting special-duty patrols that cruised the streets at 1 a.m., because that was when crimes were occurring.

Emery said Caldwell also supported officers who devised creative crime-fighting solutions. "He doesn't say, 'I'm the chief and that's the way it is,' " Emery said. "He listens."

Caldwell sometimes allows officers to set their own hours as long as they perform their assigned work. "He doesn't forget the time he was a street cop," Emery said. In fact, Caldwell twice served as president of the police officers union before becoming an administrator.

Mayes, who became chief in 1989, could never win the faith of the Downey Police Officers' Assn. "Mayes led by intimidation and fear," association Vice President Mike Hadley said. Caldwell, by contrast, "appears to possess the integrity and honesty that this department deserves."

Mayes was out of town early this week and unavailable for comment, but city officials praised the 50-year-old administrator.

"His real forte has been working with the community," Caton said. "Our Police Department is loved in the community and that love has probably only grown during his time here."

But Mayes' primary legacy would probably be his efforts to make the department more accountable, Caton said. He tightened security, for example, in the evidence room, where confiscated drugs and other items are kept until trial. Audits uncovered no significant losses or thefts of evidence, but loose procedures invited abuse, Caton added.

Mayes agreed last October to leave the department and become a deputy city manager through December, 1994. His duties will include lobbying on behalf of Downey and improving the city's response to emergencies.

"Some of the things that I heard that Chief Mayes did sounded right on target," Caldwell said. "I need to find out why they weren't well received. Employees should be able to work in a department they feel comfortable with, but they also have to be accountable."

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