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Newport selects Johnson for police chief

Newport Beach will have a new police chief soon.

City officials announced Monday that, after a nationwide search, they have picked Long Beach Police Commander Jay R. Johnson to lead the Newport force. The 23-year Long Beach veteran will take over from Robert Luman, who has served as interim chief since last summer.

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Luman had come out of retirement to oversee the police department during the city’s recruitment of a new chief, after Police Chief John Klein’s departure. Luman was a former police chief in Long Beach.

Johnson, who turns 45 today, will start in his new job July 3 — the Saturday of the busy Fourth of July holiday weekend. He was one of two finalists for the job, edging out retired Los Angeles Police Department Asst. Chief Michael Bostic, according to a Daily Pilot report from last week. City Manager Dave Kiff would not confirm Bostic’s finalist status for confidentiality reasons.

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“Both of the final candidates would have done a superb job, but [Johnson] was a little nose ahead of the other candidate,” Kiff said on Monday. "[Johnson] has a good sense of quiet leadership that I believe the officers of the department will look up to, as well as the rest of the community. At the same time, he has the training and the background that, if you’re a criminal, he’s somebody that you don’t want to mess with.”

Johnson underwent an extensive recruitment process and a panel interview conducted by a cross-section of Newport Beach residents, Kiff said.

“The police department here in Newport is a little unlike other police departments in that it is very community-oriented,” Kiff said. “The community is used to getting to know their police chief and having him accessible though e-mail or over the phone. The purpose of the community panels was as much for the incoming chief as it was for the community. If he didn’t run away screaming, we knew that we could consider it a successful recruitment.”

Johnson currently commands Long Beach Police Department’s Emergency Operations Division. He also served as commander of the south division in Long Beach.

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Running a division in Long Beach requires similar skills as a Newport Beach police chief in terms of community engagement with local businesses and residents, Johnson told the Daily Pilot Monday.

“My first priority is to come in and listen,” he said. “Only through listening will I be able to learn what the community expectations are and how to best serve the city and the department. I think that everyone is going to see very quickly that my style is teamwork.”

Johnson said he is familiar with Newport Beach, having lived in Orange County for many years. He even applied for a position as an officer with the NBPD 25 years ago before joining the Long Beach force. Although the married father of three lives in Cypress, Johnson said that he and his wife are looking into moving to Newport Beach.

“I recognize the advantage as a chief and for the community of living in the city and it’s something that we are considering,” Johnson said. “My wife and kids are very excited about the possibility. Who wouldn’t want to live in Newport?”

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Johnson joined the LBPD in 1987 as a patrol officer and was promoted to commander in 2004. Johnson, who has two brothers serving with Long Beach police, also worked in that department’s special enforcement, special weapons and tactics, and the gang and violent crimes detective divisions. During his service in Long Beach, he was honored for his commitment to the community and LBPD and received a Class “A” award for heroism, according to a news release issued by Newport officials.

Johnson holds a bachelor’s degree and master of public administration from Cal State Long Beach, and is a graduate of the FBI’s National Academy.

Peering into the future, the community can expect to a have a relationship with the new chief who is “accessible, responsive and transparent,” said Johnson, who will be paid an annual salary of $204,500, subject to a payroll deduction for CalPERS pension costs. Luman, whose tenure ends June 30, was paid $230,000 for the fiscal year.

“Because the bottom line is that I work for them,” Johnson said. “I can’t tell you how excited I am to get started.”


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