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Finalist for LAPD Job, Lopez Awaits Interview With Hahn

Search: Colleagues of the Oxnard police chief say he'd be a perfect fit in Los Angeles.

September 21, 2002|HOLLY J. WOLCOTT, TIMOTHY HUGHES and DARYL KELLEY | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

Oxnard Police Chief Art Lopez, flush from making the short list of candidates for top cop in Los Angeles, accepted a flood of congratulatory calls Friday and prepared for a meeting with Los Angeles Mayor James K. Hahn.

"I've had so many calls from people expressing their support I had to turn off my pager," Lopez said.

As for his 9 a.m. interview with Hahn on Monday, Lopez said he asked a friend what he should do to prepare. "He said, 'You've prepared for 31 1/2 years as a police officer.' "

Still, Lopez said he plans to crystallize comments about what he considers his strongest selling point--leadership in community policing--while preparing proposals on what Hahn has said are his goals for the Los Angeles Police Department.

Lopez said that he never really expected to make the final cut.

"It was one of those things where you always hope, but taking into consideration the number of top law enforcement officers from around the U.S. that were in contention, I really was surprised," he said.

Lopez joins former Philadelphia Police Commissioner John Timoney and former New York City Police Commissioner William Bratton on the list of names forwarded to Hahn for consideration.

The announcement Thursday that Lopez made the final three candidates of 13 finalists for chief of the LAPD delighted--but didn't necessarily surprise--his colleagues and peers across Ventura County.

Dist. Atty. Michael Bradbury and Sheriff Bob Brooks said they think Lopez, 52, is a perfect fit for the LAPD post, mostly because of his 28 years within that department and his knack for reaching into the communities he serves to calm fears and form consensus.

"He's building on a very strong career in Los Angeles," Brooks said. "A lot of people there know him as a person and they know his work."

Oxnard city officials said they'd hate to see Lopez go but would be proud if he got the job.

"After competing against such elite candidates . . . it's really phenomenal," Oxnard Mayor Pro Tem John Zaragoza said after the announcement. "He has done a great job for the city since he arrived in 1998, and I'd hate to lose him. But he'd do a great job down there."

Oxnard City Manager Ed Sotelo said he was surprised by the announcement, but that he also believed Lopez "had just as good a chance as the others" to make the cut.

"He's an excellent chief and has done some really good work for the city," Sotelo said.

Oxnard City Councilman Tom Holden said he has thought all along that Lopez had a good shot at the position. "He's an asset to our community and you can't wish him anything but success," he said.

Lopez has been criticized by the Oxnard City Council for his response to an outbreak of gang violence in the fall of 2000 and for officers' inability to deal effectively with mentally ill suspects that critics tied to five fatal shootings by Oxnard police last year.

But Lopez said he heard the criticisms and reacted by cracking down with a massive anti-gang presence on the streets and by immediately ordering more training on helping officers learn to handle emotionally disturbed suspects.

Other top city and law enforcement officials said Lopez should be credited for expanding the city's community policing efforts by assigning officers to specific neighborhoods, including the high-crime La Colonia. He was also praised for helping cut crime, which fell about 50% in Oxnard in the last decade.

Lopez is respected by many of his 200-officer force in Oxnard because of his big-city police background.

Officer Ramiro Holguin, 33, said Lopez is an easy person to talk with and that he had approached him on several occasions without an appointment.

"He was open and attentive, and that's the first thing you look for in a supervisor," Holguin said.

An indication of Lopez's popularity was the response of the rank-and-file as the officers watched their boss being announced as a finalist.

The station briefing room erupted in cheers when the announcement was made, said Officer Greg Harasymowycz, 25.

"He really was a part of bringing community-oriented policing into the department," Harasymowycz said. "That'll be something he'll bring to L.A. .... I think he is exactly what L.A. needs."

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Times staff writer Sandra Murillo contributed to this story.

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