Some roadblocks had grown so large they had effectively shut down pockets of town. Residents complained of rude, heavy-handed officers. Nearby businesses said they were losing money.
The department was, however, nabbing people driving without licenses, including legal and illegal immigrants. They impounded scores of cars.
One man, a laborer, tearfully told city officials that he'd been ruined by impound fees and that his children had been forced to choose between school field trips and eating three meals a day.
Perhaps, critics suggested, the department should concentrate its limited resources on violent crime -- on Pomona's numerous unsolved murders, for instance.
"We're not telling them not to do their jobs," said Arturo Jimenez, 42, a college administrator and leader of Pomona Habla/Pomona Speaks, a coalition of civic groups. "We're telling them to do their jobs in a way that people feel they are being protected, not in a way that makes people live in fear."
On May 3, a Saturday, the department launched an operation timed to coincide with Cinco de Mayo that has become known as "the granddaddy of all checkpoints." Traffic was stopped in every direction at the downtown intersection of Mission Boulevard and San Antonio Avenue.
"It looked unreal, like a scene from a movie," said City Councilwoman Cristina Carrizosa, who decried what she called the department's "Gestapo" tactics. "There were motorcycles, helicopters, patrol cars." She counted 17 tow trucks waiting to impound cars, and said people whose vehicles already had been seized were seen carrying babies in car seats away from the scene.
After that, Jimenez said, distrust between police and working-class Latinos became "palpable." Hundreds marched on City Hall. At one community forum, off-duty officers were essentially chased out as protesters shouted "Justicia! Justicia!"
Then, shortly before the November election, the department's traffic-enforcement efforts snared a big fish: City Councilman Elliott Rothman, then running for mayor. Rothman was arrested after he failed a sobriety test during a routine traffic stop.
The soon-to-be mayor and the chief had been bickering. Five days before the arrest, the chief protested when Rothman included him on campaign literature without permission. Romero said he was not endorsing any mayoral candidate -- but added pointedly that he was "particularly" not endorsing Rothman.
It turned out Rothman was not legally drunk, and the charges were dropped. (Rothman said he did not have time to speak with a reporter at Monday's meeting; he could not be reached after that.)
On Dec. 9, Romero found out he was done as police chief.
City Manager Linda Lowry, who delivered the news to the chief, declined to comment. The mayor and City Atty. Arnold M. Alvarez-Glasman insisted during Monday's meeting that Romero had retired voluntarily, prompting catcalls from the audience.
"We know why he retired!" Madrigal shouted. "You knocked him down. You threw him out. You did everything you could to tear him down."
The chief has made it clear that he had intended to stay on until 2011 and retire during the department's 100th anniversary celebration.
The way Rodich sees it, the chief was pushed out by a conspiracy: a marriage of convenience between a new mayor with a grudge and a coalition of City Council members who were intent on punishing Romero for the checkpoints.
"They weren't able to control the chief," Rodich said. "So they cut a deal."
In effect, he argued, those who say police should not be allowed to enforce the law -- those who wish to prohibit police from using checkpoints -- have won.
"For them to be championing illegal activities is un-American," he said. "People are going to rebel."
Gold is a Times staff writer.
Tensions over ex-police chiefAdditional photographs from Pomona, as well as a discussion board accompanying this article, can be found online. At latimes.com/outthere, readers can also find the archives of Out There, Scott Gold's series of weekly postcards from across Southern California, as well as photo galleries, video documentaries and more. In coming weeks, look for new installments from Koreatown, Long Beach and Elysian Park.