Costa Mesa police chief to retire, join L.A. Port Police


Costa Mesa Police Chief Tom Gazsi announced Tuesday that he will be leaving to take a job with the Los Angeles Port Police.

His last day will be Dec. 7, and soon after he will start work as deputy chief for the Port of Los Angeles, where he’ll oversee emergency management field operations

“I leave with deeply mixed feelings,” Gazsi said in a statement. “I have great regard for the Costa Mesa Police Department, its strong legacy and its reputation for exceptional service in this remarkable community. But the opportunity with the Port of Los Angeles is a unique and exciting opportunity that was difficult to pass up.”

Gazsi said retiring from Costa Mesa and taking the new job made financial sense for his family, but it also offered him a new challenge.

“It’s a specialized policing field,” he said “It’s a wonderful opportunity that I feel privileged to be selected for.”

Capt. Rob Sharpnack, who oversees field operations at the CMPD, will take over as interim chief.

Gazsi, 54, headed the department for more than three years. The city hired the former captain with the Newport Beach Police Department in July 2011 after a nationwide search for a new chief.

Gazsi started his law enforcement career at the NBPD. He was a cadet in 1979, became an officer in 1985 and rose to lieutenant in 2001 and captain in 2007.

Gazsi joined the CMPD after a bout of turmoil in the department’s upper ranks.

His immediate predecessor, interim Chief Steve Staveley, resigned in protest when the City Council cut staffing and budgets at the department.

The last permanent chief before Gazsi, Chris Shawkey, resigned in March 2011 after allegations surfaced that he had expensed mileage on personal trips to Arizona.

“We’re very grateful for Chief Gazsi’s steady leadership in Costa Mesa during some challenging times,” City CEO Tom Hatch said in a statement “We’re sorry to see him go, but we wish him the best during the next chapter of his life.”

Gazsi’s term has been marked by rebuilding at the department.

In December 2012, Gazsi announced new hires as the city embarked on an aggressive attempt to boost staff. He leaves while the department still faces dozens of vacancies.

“We are sorry to see the chief go,” said police Officer Rob Dimel, who heads the Costa Mesa Police Assn. “We are in a delicate phase of rebuilding our department, and we need consistency and continuity in our leadership. His departure leaves a feeling of uncertainty with the officers.”

Dimel continued, “At the end of the day, the chief needs to make his decisions based on what’s best for him and his family, and given the last few years, I certainly can’t blame him.”

Gazsi also oversaw the department’s rank-and-file during a period of political acrimony.

In 2013, Costa Mesa Mayor Jim Righeimer and Mayor Pro Tem sued the police association, which represents sergeants and officers, alleging its members participated in a conspiracy to harass and intimidate them for political gain.

The association has repeatedly denied any knowledge of the alleged plot and called the litigation a political ploy.

The lawsuit is continuing through the court system.

Despite any conflict with the union, Righeimer told the Pilot on Tuesday that he’ll miss working with the chief.

“Obviously, we really enjoyed working with him these last several years,” Righeimer said. “I’d rather he stay, but I can understand. He’s able to walk into retirement, and now he’s got a phenomenal opportunity for the Port of Los Angeles.”

Daily Pilot staff writer Bradley Zint contributed to this report.