Looking for Police Chief in the Ranks and Outside : Torrance: The Civil Service Commission concurs that the search should extend to outside candidates. The chief retires next year.


Candidates from both inside and outside the Torrance Police Department will probably be considered to replace retiring Chief Donald E. Nash.

That likelihood increased Monday when the Civil Service Commission concurred with City Manager Leroy Jackson, who has recommended that outside candidates be included in the search. Nash is due to retire in February, 1992.

Nash, who was hospitalized Monday for chest pains, remained in Little Company of Mary Hospital on Wednesday in good condition, said hospital spokeswoman Susan Washburn.

A search that would also look outside the department is favored by at least four members of the seven-member City Council. The council must decide whether to limit candidates to those within the department or expand the recruitment. The city manager will name the chief.

"Even though we have some very good people in our own department, I think we need to examine all the candidates that are available, both inside and outside," said Councilman Mark Wirth.

Councilman Dan Walker said the city has "an obligation to look at the best officers that are available throughout the state, if not the country," though the some of the best candidates may be within the department.

The other two who have expressed support for broader recruiting are Councilman Tim Mock and Mayor Katy Geissert.

However, Councilman Bill Applegate said in an interview that an outside search is unnecessary. He praised the quality of the department's current top-ranking employees, saying, "If we did not have qualified and capable people, I'd certainly be looking at an open examination. That is not the case."

Discussion of the process for hiring a new chief comes at a tumultuous time for the department and for Nash, 66, who has been chief since 1971.

The Los Angeles County district attorney is investigating whether Nash underpaid sales tax when he bought a 1957 Thunderbird two years ago. Jackson is also reviewing the facts of the sale.

It is the second time this year that Nash has come under scrutiny by the district attorney and Jackson because of possible irregularities in paying automobile sales tax.

Nash was hired as a Torrance police officer in 1948 and became chief in February, 1970. He announced Feb. 1 that he planed to retire next February.

City officials say they hope to choose a replacement well before Nash steps down, and possibly as early as late August or September. The job will pay between $78,252 and $95,112.

Jackson recommended to the Civil Service Commission in a May 3 memorandum that the search be opened to outside candidates, saying, "An open examination is the most frequently used mechanism to ensure that the most qualified candidates are provided an opportunity to apply for the position."

The conclusions were based on a survey of 11 other Southern California departments that found all relied on open rather than internal exams. In addition, of six Torrance department heads hired in the past five years, five were chosen with open exams.

On Monday night, the Civil Service Commission voted 5 to 2 to concur with Jackson's recommendation. Commissioners Dick Cahill and Gerry Rische were opposed.

Rische said Tuesday that she believes an internal search would build morale among police employees. "I think there should be something for them to strive for," Rische said.

But another commissioner, David Adelstein, said it is "appropriate to give the city as much latitude as possible in hiring a new chief."

That view is not popular among some in the department.

Police Lt. Robert Armstrong, who plans to apply for the job, said Tuesday that he favors promoting a chief from within the department's ranks.

"A city has a personality," Armstrong said. "After you've been in a city a long time, you know what that personality is . . . whether it's a conservative-type city, it's a liberal city, its economic situation."

Candidates from within the Torrance department know the city and its problems, he said. "I think there's lots of advantages for somebody inside the agency being promoted up," he added.

Armstrong predicted that 13 to 18 Torrance police employees will seek the chief's job.

Police Detective David Nemeth, president of the Torrance Police Officers Assn., also addressed the commission. He asked that people with police experience be on the special review panel that will scrutinize the candidates.

Nemeth said he, too, favors an internal search.

"You never know what you're going to get when you go outside," he said.

The city plans to use an executive search firm to recruit and screen candidates for the chief's job. The firm will recommend five to 10 candidates who will be interviewed by the city. No written examination is planned.

The city manager will choose a chief from among the top three candidates.

The Police Department has been plagued by several police brutality lawsuits, as well as other litigation in recent years.

The best-known case involved 19-year-old Kelly Rastello of San Pedro, who died after his motorcycle collided with a pickup truck driven by off-duty Torrance Police Sgt. Rollo Green.

In the 1989 wrongful death lawsuit, a jury found that Torrance police covered up for Green by, among other things, delaying a field sobriety test for more than an hour and failing to measure his blood-alcohol level. It concluded the department had a "custom and policy" of condoning misbehavior by officers.

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