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Pasadena Appoints Its First Black Police Chief

Times Staff Writer

A 21-year veteran of the Pasadena Police Department, James M. Robenson, was chosen Tuesday as the first black police chief in the city’s 99-year history.

“We don’t want to be the traditional law enforcement police department,” Robenson said after his appointment by City Manager Donald McIntyre. “We want to stop crime before it occurs and, after it occurs, we want to get there the fastest with the mostest.”

Robenson, who had commanded the Staff Services Division in the 202-officer department, was chosen over two other finalists for the $55,116-a-year job. He replaces Fred Bertsche, who has served as acting police chief since the retirement of Chief Robert McGowan last spring.

Through the Ranks

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A Chicago native, the 44-year-old Robenson joined the Pasadena force in 1964 and worked his way up through the ranks. He was promoted to lieutenant in 1974 and commander in 1979.

McIntyre cited the city’s need to be “keenly sensitive to community relations” as a key reason for Robenson’s appointment.

“This is the best man to work with the community in making this a safe community,” he said.

Robenson is one of the few black police chiefs in California. Other cities that have black chiefs include Berkeley, Compton and Inglewood, according to Dennis Diaz, president of the Pasadena Police Officers Assn.

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No Surprise

Diaz said Robenson is well regarded among rank-and-file officers and the appointment came as no surprise.

Robenson takes command of a department that has experienced racial tension in the past. The department, which has 36 black officers, was sued in 1978 for discriminating against blacks and Latinos in hiring and promotion policies. The city settled the suit for $500,000 in 1983. About 18% of the city’s 125,000 residents are black.

Mayor William Bogaard said he is delighted with the appointment, adding that Robenson “mixes well with the various segments of Pasadena, which is a diverse and complicated community.”

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