Huntington Beach Police Chief Ken Small has announced his retirement after 11 years with the city.
"He's got 40-plus years in law enforcement," City Manager Fred Wilson said. "It'll be a great loss to the city. I think [Small], in my opinion, was an outstanding chief."
Small started his law enforcement career of 42 years in 1971 with the Los Angeles Police Department, mainly working in the Watts division, which was a "pretty tough part of town," he said.
"The first year I was in Watts, which is about half the size of Huntington Beach, we had 142 murders," Small said. "Typically in Huntington Beach, we've had some years where we've had none and some years we have two or three."
He worked with the LAPD for 25 years and had his share of physical altercations.
"You can't be a police officer without having to be involved in some sort of violence," Small said. "It's the nature of the job. I've been in a lot of incidents where I used force and force has been used on me."
Councilman Jim Katapodis, who retired as a sergeant with the LAPD in February, said that he probably worked with Small at one point in his career.
"Somewhere we worked together [in the LAPD]. He and I can't figure out where it was," Katapodis said. "He was great. I certainly enjoyed my short time with him as the chief of Huntington Beach."
In 1996, Small became chief of police for the Daytona Beach Police Department in Florida. He and his wife were looking for a change of scene, but the Sunshine State proved just as difficult as Watts.
"They didn't really have any street gangs, but they had a lot of narcotics and drive-up drug markets," he said.
Small said the city became extremely busy when the Daytona 500 and Daytona Bike Week rolled into town.
"There's probably about 400,000 to 500,000 Harley Davidson riders that come to town," he said about the two-week event. "The whole town vibrates."
Small's wife started to miss Southern California, and in 2002, he applied and then was named the chief of police for Huntington Beach.
Even with a reduced staff and working through budget cuts, Small has managed to provide a fair amount of policing throughout the city, Wilson said.
Small says 42 of his 237 police officer positions are vacant but that he intends to leave the jobs open, opting for a budget-cutting strategy of attrition rather than layoffs. "We've eliminated a lot of non-sworn positions as well, but all the work continues," he said. "This summer, I'm going to have fewer police officers than we had 40 years ago."
A nationwide search will begin soon and the city hopes to get a new police chief hired within the next six months, according to Wilson.
Small said he will continue working with the department as the search continues for his replacement. The department's ultimate pick would be subject to council approval.
"My hope would be that they find somebody that's open, accessible and approachable," he said. "That is No.1 in terms of being the chief of police. You've got to be approached, listen and respond to concerns. I've seen too many chiefs with layers of people around them that you can't really get through, and I don't think that's healthy for the department or the city."
Katapodis expects to see applicants from several other agencies. "I know for sure there'll be a couple of LAPD people applying, so it'll be very competitive," Katapodis said.