YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

The State

Commander of CHP Announces Retirement From 'Great Career'

D.O. 'Spike' Helmick, 59, a 35-year veteran, will remain on payroll until he turns 60.

June 02, 2004|Carl Ingram | Times Staff Writer

SACRAMENTO — California Highway Patrol Commissioner D.O. "Spike" Helmick, who started policing the roadways of Southern California in 1969 and became the state's first chief of homeland security, said Tuesday he would retire Sept. 15.

At an emotional news conference, where he spoke haltingly and dabbed at wet eyes with a tissue, the 59-year-old Helmick called his 35 years as a patrol officer and then director overseeing more than 10,000 employees a "great career."

Sunne Wright McPeak, Helmick's supervisor as secretary of the Transportation, Business and Housing Agency, said an "open and public" search would be made for a successor.

Helmick, who often expressed hope that he would retire from the patrol as its commissioner, will remain on the payroll as a "special advisor" on homeland security until Dec. 13, when he reaches the mandatory retirement age of 60, McPeak said.

Both Helmick and McPeak refused to answer directly when asked whether he had been pressured by officials of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's administration to leave early in favor of someone new.

He later told friends privately, "They are the bosses, and that is their call; that is their right."

At the news conference, Helmick thanked McPeak for her "very kind" words of praise for his public service. But he was known to have told friends he felt hurt that his tenure as CHP commander -- serving three governors over nine years -- was cut short before he reached 60.

In retirement, Helmick will receive $131,000 a year, the same as his salary. Last year, the Legislature passed a special bill sponsored by the California Assn. of Highway Patrolmen, a labor union, which enabled a retired CHP commissioner to receive as much in pension as the official received while in office.

McPeak said the governor's office had received several unsolicited applications for the post, which Helmick held longer than any of his predecessors in the last 50 of the patrol's 75-year history.

McPeak said candidates in and outside the patrol would be considered. No leading contender has emerged from Helmick's staff of managers, sources said, but CHP Assistant Commissioner Manuel J. Padilla and Southern Division Assistant Chief Art Acevedo are candidates.

"I applied back in April," said Acevedo, who oversaw the investigation of last year's Santa Monica Farmers Market crash. "I represent change, and the governor came in with a mandate to overhaul government."

Sources said a third candidate is Santa Clara County Sheriff Laurie Smith, who could not be reached for comment.

In the past, Helmick has indicated that he favors appointment of Padilla, the patrol's No. 2 official and like Helmick a former lobbyist for the CHP. Because of a pay raise last year, the assistant commissioner is paid more than his boss, $135,000 a year.

Helmick, who left his job in a clothing store in his Northern California hometown of Oroville to join the CHP, graduated from the training academy in 1969. His first assignments were patrol duty in Glendale and other parts of Los Angeles County.

He was promoted through the ranks and became commissioner in 1995, succeeding his longtime friend Maury Hannigan. He has said that his worst day in the CHP was in 1989 when his brother, CHP Lt. John Helmick, was killed in the crash of his patrol car.

As the world became more complex during the past 35 years, so did the duties of the CHP. It evolved from a police agency charged with enforcing traffic laws to a variety of other missions. They ranged from heading up the state's homeland security programs in the aftermath of Sept. 11, 2001, to assisting in riot control and aiding local departments in the fight against street gangs.

In the 1980s, Helmick became a high-profile figure in the Capitol as the patrol's lobbyist.

Times staff writer Richard Winton contributed to this report.

Los Angeles Times Articles