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Chief: Put others first

Incoming Newport Chief of Police Jay R. Johnson, 45, says he uses a team style that can help fix departmental problems.

June 23, 2010|Joseph Serna, joseph.serna@latimes.com

Amid years of sinking morale, intradepartment spats and an employee lawsuit that aired much of the police department's dirty laundry, Newport Beach is set to bring on a new chief — its third in three years — on July 3.

Jay R. Johnson, 45, is looking to head a police department far from perfect, but according to officers, one that is on the upswing.

"There was a lack of trust among the line-level troops and management," said Officer Dave Syvock, president of the Newport Beach Police Assn., which represents rank-and-file employees. "That trust deteriorated because of the belief there wasn't a fair practice in promotions and selection for specialty assignments. We're getting to a point where we're starting to build up some of that morale but we still have work to do."

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Johnson, a Long Beach police officer of 23 years whose latest assignment was commanding that city's downtown South Division, said he's looking forward to working out issues with police staff.

"I've done just about as much research as I can on the city and the department," he said. "Until you get inside and see how things operate, different personalities, different issues, you can't just define it through research. That's when I'll have a real solid understanding. My style, I'm very much into the team concept. The organization as a team is going to fix problems."

The Newport Beach Police Department has had its share of issues the last few years. In former chief Bob McDonell's last years at the helm, he signed an agreement with then-City Manager Homer Bludau that would bring back retired officers part time, saving the city benefits costs. The agreement, on top of violating a city ordinance because it wasn't approved by the City Council, kept some officers from promotions because the positions remained filled by the retired officers.

When McDonell named John Klein as his replacement in 2007, the city, it was later determined, did not properly recruit for the position.

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