James T. Butts, who worked his way from cadet to deputy chief of police in Inglewood, has been picked as the Santa Monica police chief.
Butts, 37, will be the youngest chief in the city’s history and the first black to head the 175-officer department. He will take over from retiring chief James Keane on Sept. 9.
“He is one of the brightest individuals I have ever met,” said City Manager John Jalili in announcing Butts’ appointment Wednesday. “I look forward to him elevating our department to even higher levels.”
Jalili said Butts was ranked first among 72 candidates by a panel of law enforcement and personnel experts. Butts’ annual salary will be $98,628.
Butts, who grew up near Florence and Van Ness avenues in Los Angeles and graduated from Crenshaw High School, said he is looking forward to serving in Santa Monica because of the city’s reputation for progressive politics and the department’s reputation for professionalism.
“I’m ecstatic,” Butts said. “I’m grateful that Santa Monica has decided to make an investment in me. I plan on giving 100% to both the city and the agency.”
Butts is a 17-year veteran of the Inglewood force, where he moved up quickly. He has been a patrol officer, robbery investigator, commander of the special weapons and tactics (SWAT) team and an undercover officer. He was promoted to sergeant in 1981 and to lieutenant in 1984.
In 1986, as commanding officer of the narcotics and special operations unit, he organized a team of 30 undercover officers who made more than 1,000 arrests. Later that year, at the age of 33, Butts became the youngest captain in the department’s history, overseeing a 124-member staff that included patrol and traffic enforcement divisions. In April, 1990, he was named deputy chief, the second-ranking position in the 208-officer department.
He has a bachelor’s degree in business from Cal State L.A. and is expected to complete a master’s degree in business administration at Cal Poly Pomona this fall.
While illegal drugs are at the root of much of Inglewood’s crime, Santa Monica’s most difficult crime problems stem from a large homeless population. Butts said he intends to approach the problem with the notion of protecting the rights of the homeless and of the city’s residents.
People who know and work with Butts in Inglewood praised him as intelligent and well-liked.
“He’s highly respected,” said former Inglewood Police Chief Joseph Rouzan Jr., currently president of the Inglewood school board. “Santa Monica has gained an outstanding professional. I would be honored to work under his command.”
Inglewood Police Officer Gary Luckett, who has known Butts since he was a cadet, said he expects a bright future for Butts.
“He is a highly intelligent person,” Luckett said. “He’s very bright, very innovative and very well-liked. He’s the type of guy who’s going to end up the chief of police of a major big city some day.”