When the city disbands its Police Department and begins contracting for services with the Orange County Sheriff's Department this July, a new face will be leading the law enforcement effort here.
Officials announced Thursday that Sheriff's Lt. Thomas O. Davis has been named as chief of police services for San Clemente, subject to City Council approval of a final contract with the Sheriff's Department.
A final contract is expected to reach the council in mid-June with the change in police power targeted for July 1, City Manager Michael W. Parness said.
Parness, who was responsible for appointing Davis to the position following a monthlong search process, predicted that the lieutenant will establish "immediate credibility" in the community. Davis is presently assigned to the Regional Narcotics Suppression Program.
"He's a real strong communicator, he's a problem solver and he's an established leader," Parness said. "He wants to move to this community. More than anything, he was right on target in his commitment to the same values we have in this community. He understands why this community is as supportive of the Police Department as it is."
Davis, 39, was on vacation Friday and could not be reached for comment.
Davis, who is married and has three children, was hired by the Sheriff's Department in 1975. He has held a number of positions in the department's corrections, patrol and investigation divisions. At his current assignment with the narcotics task force, he was responsible for securing a $1.5-million federal grant to battle drugs, officials said. He was the recipient of a Medal of Merit in 1991.
Parness said Davis competed with two lieutenants from the Police Department and two others from the Sheriff's Department for the position. "There were some real tough choices," he said.
Police Chief Michael Sorg declined to apply for the position and is instead being considered for an administrative position in the city, Parness said.
Parness said it was critical to appoint a chief at this time to ensure a smooth transition in police services.
Had the city decided to wait until a final contract was approved with the Sheriff's Department, the new chief would only have had a matter of weeks to prepare, Parness said.
With the appointment completed, those on the police force vying for the chief's position will have time to decide if they want to accept another position in the Sheriff's Department, and Davis will have some say in building the organization, Parness said.
Davis will also have time to begin working with residents, employees and council members, Parness said.
"It's a critical position," Parness said. "The chief reports to the city manager. At the same time, he is a member of the Sheriff's Department."
After months of debate, the City Council voted 4 to 1 in February to disband the Police Department and contract for services with the Sheriff's Department, an action expected to save the financially troubled city about $2 million in the first year alone.
The city, with a $20-million operating budget, is facing a $6.35-million shortfall this coming fiscal year.
Angry residents have since launched a recall drive against the four council members who voted in favor of the change. The group is also collecting signatures to get a voter initiative onto the ballot seeking to overturn the council's decision to disband the 65-year-old Police Department.