Early next week, Salt Lake City is likely to hire its first non-white police chief, sources said Friday.
Former Phoenix Police Chief Ruben Ortega has emerged as the leading candidate for the job, providing the city can afford him, sources said.A committee appointed by Salt Lake Mayor Deedee Corradini narrowed the choice late Thursday to Ortega and A. Tony Fisher, a black who is chief of police in Takoma Park, Md., a suburb of Washington, D.C.
The committee sent its recommendation to Corradini, who is expected to announce a new chief early next week. The mayor could choose from a list of five finalists announced Wednesday, including three from within the Salt Lake Police Department, but sources said members of the committee felt Ortega and Fisher clearly were the best candidates.
According to the Phoenix Gazette, Ortega, who was a finalist for the job of chief in Los Angeles earlier this year, earned $104,936 per year before retiring in 1991. He is earning a pension of slightly more than $80,000 per year, which he will continue to earn if he is hired by Salt Lake City.
Roger Black, Salt Lake City's management services director, said the most the city can offer Ortega is $83,112 per year, according to current city schedules.
But Black said Ortega and all the other candidates knew what the job paid before agreeing to pursue it.
Ortega spent 11 years as chief in Phoenix and is best known for orchestrating a sting that led to indictments against seven state legislators. He has spent much of the past year teaching at Phoenix College and serving on a task force investigating the brutal murders of several people in a Buddhist Temple near the city.
Fisher is the first black police chief in Takoma Park, a predominantly white, middle-class suburban city.
According to the Wall Street Journal, which featured him in a story published Aug. 5, Fisher is an innovator of "community-based policing." It's a style meant to replace harsh and physical police tactics with a more personal approach.
His efforts have been praised for improving relations with the community, with business leaders and with the media. He shocked some by issuing a press release detailing how his department bungled a murder investigation by not searching an apartment.
A native of Greenwood, S.C., Fisher also emphasizes education and high standards among his officers. He rewrote his department's operations manual, increasing it from a half-inch thick to several inches, prompting some older officers to retire. And he set a goal to have his department accredited by the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies.
Nearly a third of his officers have gone back to college in their spare time since Fisher became chief, the Journal said. Meanwhile, he spends much of his time either meeting with residents in their homes, with teenagers or preaching anti-crime sermons from pulpits at local churches.
Sources said Ortega emerged as the top candidate because of his experience in organizing a neighborhood-based police force. Members of the selection committee also liked the way he trained his subordinates for advancement during his years as chief in Phoenix, as well as his experience dealing with police unions.
He has the reputation of a tough administrator who likes to pursue his own agenda. According to the Phoenix Gazette, Ortega resigned after an argument with the city manager, who wanted Ortega to inform him of any pending investigation before it was launched.
Ortega was rumored to be pursuing a political career after resigning, including a possible candidacy for mayor. But Kevin Robinson, a spokesman for the Phoenix Police Department, said those rumors had little substance.
"In all the time I worked for him, he never wanted to go into politics," he said.
The new chief will replace Ed Johnson, who retired under pressure in August. He had been at odds with Corradini over ways to restructure the department.