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New Goals for Oxnard Chief

Law enforcement: After being passed over for LAPD post, Art Lopez says he will stay put.

October 03, 2002|DARYL KELLEY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

After losing his bid for top cop in Los Angeles, Oxnard Police Chief Art Lopez said Wednesday that he plans to head the 200-officer Oxnard force until he retires in a few years.

"This was just one of those golden opportunities," said a deflated Lopez minutes after Los Angeles Mayor James Hahn called with the news. "It would have been [a dream come true]. I'm a competitive person, so it doesn't come easy. It's a difficult pill to swallow when you lose."

But Lopez, 52, said he was already refocusing on a different goal--gathering new crime-fighting ideas he can use in Oxnard at an International Assn. of Chiefs of Police conference this weekend in Minneapolis.

"I'm looking forward to seeing what the best and the brightest are doing throughout the U.S.," he said, "so I can re-energize myself, so I'll be a little smarter. And, hopefully, a little bit of this disappointment will go away."

Oxnard officials, citing a 25% drop in crime during Lopez's four-year tenure, said the chief will be welcomed home with open arms.

"I feel bad for Chief Lopez," Mayor Pro Tempore John Zaragosa said. "I think it's going to be a loss for Los Angeles, but a gain for Oxnard. I'm happy we're going to have him, but I'm sorry for him, because he would have done a great job in bringing that department and that community together."

Lopez has strengthened the Oxnard department's ties to the blue-collar community since he arrived in 1998 after he was passed over for the top Los Angeles job. Lopez had climbed steadily through the ranks of the LAPD--starting as a patrolman in 1971 and ending as a deputy chief shortly before he left for Oxnard.

In the days since Lopez was named a finalist, six Los Angeles City Council members had publicly backed him for the job.

He also had strong support within the LAPD.

In Oxnard, Lopez's employers were rooting for him too, and took pride that he was named a finalist along with former Philadelphia Police Commissioner John Timoney and William Bratton, the onetime top cop in New York City whom Hahn chose as the new chief.

Lopez said Hahn never said specifically why Bratton got the nod.

"He just said, 'Hey, listen, you did a great job in all the interviews, but I decided to select Bill Bratton.... And I said I stand ready if he needs any help from me," Lopez said.

Lopez ruled out returning to L.A. as a top aide to Bratton.

"I don't think so. I don't think that would be an option," he said. "I'm going to stay here. I'm not looking for another home. This has been a great marriage with a great city."

Lopez said his support was so strong in Oxnard that he almost feels like he let down its residents and the City Council by not getting the job.

"They've been wishing me well throughout the whole process," he said.

Lopez said he told City Manager Ed Sotelo in 1998 that he planned to remain in Oxnard for five to eight years, then retire. That is his plan again, he said. So with his fourth anniversary approaching, Lopez said he will stay in Oxnard at least one year and possibly four.

Lopez maintains a condominium near the beach at Channel Islands Harbor, but his primary residence is in the Porter Ranch development in the San Fernando Valley.

"I'm still on my timetable," Lopez said. "And I don't have any aspirations to go anyplace else. I'm going to stay here as long as this city wants me."

Lopez said there are still some things he wants to accomplish in Oxnard. Most immediately, he said, he will focus on ending a flare-up of violence involving Oxnard youth gangs.

"Whenever these things brew up, our strategy has been to come out with as many resources as we need to put the fire out," he said. "We've been targeting those individuals we think are responsible.

"You know," he added, "this isn't the end of the world for me. There's still life after the LAPD."

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