Oxnard Chief to Take Over Police Force in Phoenix
Police Chief Harold Hurtt accepted the top cop job in Phoenix on Tuesday, taking over a force that is more than 14 times the size of the department he now leads.
Hurtt, who worked in the Phoenix department for 24 years before taking the helm in Oxnard almost six years ago, beat out four other finalists, including former police chiefs from San Jose; Albuquerque, N.M.; and Newark, N.J.
“This would be the highlight of any police officer’s career--to be able to take control of a major city’s police department,” Hurtt said in a phone call from Phoenix after the announcement. “I’m honored. I think my past experience with the department, along with my work as a police chief, made me a unique fit for the job.”
The post is a big step up for Hurtt, who will go from heading a department of about 240 people in Oxnard with a budget of about $24 million to overseeing a department of more than 3,400 employees with a budget of about $240 million.
“I think with that larger size, you also have more resources to work with,” Hurtt said. “There are a lot of talented people within the organization, which will help make my job easier. . . . I don’t think the challenges will be any different than what I had in Oxnard, but they may come in greater numbers.”
The 51-year-old Hurtt--who was Oxnard’s first black police chief and the county’s only minority chief--applied for the top job in Phoenix when it opened Jan. 2.
Just before that, Hurtt had dropped out of the running for the position of Oxnard city manager. In March, Hurtt notified Oxnard officials that he would leave his post even if he didn’t get the chief’s job.
Hurtt wanted to move back to Phoenix because of his family. Hurtt’s wife, Carol, 52, moved to Phoenix in March to head up a multi-state foster-care program, and he said they have long considered Phoenix their home. Carol Hurtt worked as a top probation department official in Ventura County before her move.
The couple’s children and five grandchildren live in Phoenix, and Carol Hurtt grew up there, he said.
In accepting the position, Hurtt will be taking a pay cut--his current salary is $128,000 and the Phoenix job pays $118,000 a year.
But Hurtt, who will begin work May 11, pointed out that the cost of living in Arizona is lower than in California.
Several top officers on the Oxnard police force said that, with Hurtt’s long history on the Phoenix force, it was an obvious move for him. Hurtt, an assistant chief in Phoenix before leaving for Oxnard, was a finalist for the chief’s job there in 1991.
“We weren’t surprised because he seems like the most qualified for the position,” Oxnard Police Cmdr. John Crombach said. “He’s got more energy than any person I’ve ever met. His leadership skills are unmatched, and he’s done such a good job I don’t see how they could’ve picked anyone else.”
In Oxnard, Hurtt was sometimes criticized for not spending more time with rank-and-file officers. His department also drew flak over several officer-involved shootings during his tenure, including an incident in 1996 in which a SWAT team member was accidentally shot and killed by a fellow officer. The department also was accused by prosecutors of having “a code of silence” during a 1997 police brutality trial. The officer accused of brutality was eventually acquitted.
But through it all, Hurtt has maintained the respect of many city officials for his push to make the department more progressive and more responsive to the community.
“He’s leaving a good legacy,” Mayor Manuel Lopez said.
City officials said they expect Hurtt to leave in early May. No interim chief has yet been named.
But Oxnard has already put together a group of community members and police officers to help in the search for Hurtt’s replacement, City Manager Ed Sotello said.
“I’ve assembled some folks to identify the qualities that they want in a new chief,” Sotello said.
Hurtt’s tenure as chief in Oxnard has been marked by a 25% drop in crime and a push toward more community-based policing, Sotello said.
Hurtt grew the Neighborhood Watch program and pushed to establish police substations in high-crime communities, deepening ties between officers and the neighborhoods they patrolled, Sotello said.
“Support for community policing would be very important” for a new chief, Sotello said. “Obviously we’d like to continue that with whoever replaces him and take it to new heights and new levels.”
There would also have to be a sensitivity to the Latino community, he said.
Hurtt told city officials in Phoenix that he will learn Spanish to better understand the Latino community there.
City officials expect it will take three to four months to find a replacement for Hurtt, Sotello said. The city plans to use an executive search company to help find candidates for the job, he said.