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Wasn’t Forced Out of Police Chief Job, Cronkhite Declares

Times Staff Writer

In his first public comments since abruptly resigning his job, former Santa Ana Police Chief Clyde L. Cronkhite said Tuesday that he was not forced out of his job but left voluntarily because he had achieved most of his goals within the department.

Cronkhite, in a 45-minute telephone interview from his Huntington Beach home, said he had no length of service in mind when he came to Santa Ana a little more than a year ago, but had “some hopes of making a full career out of it if it was something that gave me the satisfaction in life that I wanted.”

Will Pursue Doctoral

“I’m old enough and experienced enough to know that you savor things and see if you want to do them,” he said. If not, then “you go and do something else. I enjoy life very, very much. Now it’s time for me to contribute in another way.”

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Cronkhite, 50, said he was leaving to complete doctoral studies in public administration at USC and hopes to teach--and possibly return to police work someday.

“The things that I wanted to do had been accomplished,” said Cronkhite, who came into Santa Ana--and left--at a time of acrimonious relations between rank-and-file police officers and city management.

He notified City Manager David N. Ream on Sunday that he was resigning. He said that he had been thinking for a few months about leaving his job, but wanted to wait at least until Nov. 15, when he completed his 1-year probationary period.

“I didn’t want to go until after that date because I didn’t want anyone to think they were forcing me out,” said Cronkhite, who served 26 years with the Los Angeles Police Department, where he attained the rank of deputy chief.

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While acknowledging that the enormous problems facing him when he took over as chief made for “the most trying challenge of my whole life,” Cronkhite denied that they hastened his departure.

“When I came in, it was the worst year in our history, for a number of factors,” said Cronkhite, recalling the no-confidence votes registered by police officers against both City Manager Ream and former Police Chief Raymond C. Davis, a bitter, ongoing contract dispute and a budget crunch that forced police layoffs for the first time in department history.

In addition, Cronkhite said some of the department’s sergeants sometimes put their union interests ahead of those of the police force.

“Things have to look pretty dreary. Crime has to look bad. That’s the way they get raises,” he said. “But a police chief can’t just sit back. I want them to get the best raise possible, but I also wanted to be sure the community got the best service possible.”

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The Santa Ana Police Benevolent Assn. has been battling the City Council and Ream for almost 2 years for a contract that would make Santa Ana officers the highest-paid in Orange County. It has also demanded that the city hire more officers, and its members fought hard to unseat four incumbent council members in the November elections. Only one of the four targeted council members--Wilson B. Hart--was defeated.

The union president, Sgt. Donald Blankenship, has often been harshly critical of Cronkhite for what Blankenship said was failing to stand up to city management and fight for higher pay and increased manpower.

Cronkhite said Tuesday that, in principle, he largely agrees with Blankenship’s goals--and in fact has obtained more officers and asked for higher pay packages--but disagrees with some of the methods the officers have used, such as getting actively involved in the city’s political process in trying to achieve their goals.

“I have never said that Santa Ana has enough officers,” Cronkhite said. “I told him (Blankenship) I thought the approach he was taking toward the council was counterproductive to our department. . . . It leaves scars that sometimes you can’t repair.”

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Cronkhite disagreed with a commonly held perception in Santa Ana that morale among police officers is low. “I think the morale is good,” he said. “Morale isn’t being happy. . . . It’s going out and doing a job no matter what kind of crap you have to take. And they’ve been doing that, working their souls out. I’m proud of them for that.”

Proud of Reorganizing

The former chief said he hopes the officers get a wage settlement soon. “It (the contract dispute) really takes away from the focus of what you want to do,” he said.

Cronkhite said he is most proud of reorganizing the department during a time of shrinking resources while ensuring that “we are able to provide better service to the community than when we got here.”

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Crime is down since a department reorganization took effect in July, Cronkhite said. So are response times for major, life-threatening calls--from almost 12 minutes down to 7.7 minutes, he said.

“I know without a shadow of a doubt that we could do a much better job if the wage settlement were behind us,” he said.

Cronkhite said that he and Ream agreed that Paul M. Walters, a Santa Ana police captain who was immediately appointed as Cronkhite’s successor, was the obvious choice for the job.

In his first full day on the job Tuesday, Walters rescinded the controversial transfers by Cronkhite of three sergeants who have represented the police officers union in wage negotiations.

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The transfers, among the last acts by Cronkhite, were criticized by the PBA as retribution for the sergeants’ presence on the association’s wage negotiating team, and one of the sergeants won a temporary court order blocking his transfer.

Six other sergeants were also transferred to new duties by Cronkhite last week. Walters’ rescission order includes all nine sergeants, said Lt. Robert Chavez, the department’s spokesman.

‘Make the Troops Happy’

Blankenship called Walters’ decision to rescind the transfers “a hell of a gesture. . . . It is certainly going to make the troops happy.”

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Walters was unavailable for comment. In the written order rescinding the transfers, he said:

“It has always been our desire to consider both organizational and individual needs in effecting personnel moves. As a newly appointed chief of police I intend to review and further evaluate the need for further transfers.”

One of the sergeants, John McClain, was a veteran homicide investigator less than a year from retirement. He was transferred to patrol but won a temporary restraining order in Orange County Superior Court on Friday blocking the move.

Another member of the wage team, Sgt. Gary Sawyer, was transferred from the burglary division to patrol. The third member, Sgt. Erik Vedborg, went from patrol to communications.

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McClain, who went on stress leave after receiving his transfer order last week, could not be reached for comment.

“When I came here I rescinded a lot of things my predecessor did,” Cronkhite said. He said that the transfers of the sergeants, including those on the wage negotiating team, had nothing to do with politics but were simply part of his plan to oil the rust that had set in within the department.

‘Don’t Have Any Regrets’

“They had been in those positions a long, long time . . . and I thought it was very healthy for them to get out and see what the other half of the department had done,” Cronkhite said. “I did it in July with the lieutenants, and now it was time to make that move for the sergeants.”

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Cronkhite said that, undoubtedly, there are those in the department who disliked him and blame him for layoffs of non-sworn officers and a badly needed reorganization that left some officers with new assignments they did not want.

“The things that occurred were just out of people’s hands, and they just had to happen this year,” Cronkhite said. “When I think back over the way I handled it, no, I don’t have any regrets. I was just the fellow who was there at the time, and I had to do it.”


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