Veteran GPD captain succeeds
Thomas Kang in top position
By Michael Axt
With the unanimous approval of the City Council, Michael Saffell was promoted from captain to the Gardena Police Department’s highest law enforcement post 48 hours before Thanksgiving — declaring it is “not just a job, more like a ‘calling.’”
A 26-year veteran of the GPD, Saffell accepted the office of “top cop (Chief of Police)” for Gardena on Nov. 26, a month after former Chief Thomas Kang departed for an “early retirement” in mid-October to pursue a doctorate degree and global church missionary work.
“I have this philosophy that a police officer has the dual role of ‘crime fighter’ and ‘service provider,’” Chief Saffell said, as he reflected on his role in a sit-down interview last week with the Gardena Valley News. “We need to make the public “feel” safe as well as keep them safe. The law enforcement work we do on a 24/7 basis is our best effort to keep people safe. Our daily interactions, conversations, and relationship building with our citizens and business people is our best effort to make them feel safe. We will continue to focus on both relentlessly.”
During the interview, Saffell, 48, outlined his three-part plan for the first 12-months as chief of the GPD with the mantra, “re-staffing, realigning, restarting.”
In his first year, Saffell will be able to re-staff captains, lieutenants, and sergeants, who are nearing retirement with new officials. He intends to realign officers by matching employee’s strengths with various collateral assignments and realign the department’s organizational structure in order to improve efficiencies and create a Professional Standards Bureau.
For the restart facet, he intends on pouring funds, enthusiasm and renewed energy into programs that are highly valued by the community, such as district policing and its associated programs.
In his vision for the GPD, Saffell hopes to improve and “evolve” the “community policing foundation cast-in-die by his predecessors and mentors — former chiefs Kang and Ed Medrano, who served in the role for 14 years.
“I evolved with the GPD community through the district policing program,” Saffell said. “Through community policing, I have come to know this community in a very unique way. It is a relationship that I have seen many other police departments try to replicate, but never really get to the level that we do here in Gardena. The Gardena policing philosophy was established under Medrano and continued under Kang. I am a true believer.”
District policing is defined as allocating police officers to particular areas so they can get familiar with local citizens and residents..
“Chief Mike Saffell rose up the ranks of the Gardena Police Department and his experience, education and leadership makes him a very qualified. He will be great for the community and organization to carry on our mission to have the community love the Gardena Police Department and the criminals fear coming into the city and committing crimes, “stated former GPD Chief Thomas Kang recently.
“Indeed, Saffell arrives at the highest police department office with an impressive resume, ascending the department ladder and ranks from a civilian jailor, a patrol officer, a narcotics and crimes against property detective, a patrol and COPPS team sergeant, a 12- year stint as district lieutenant , a year as captain, deputy chief, and then interim chief.
He considers his stint as narcotics detective and his experience in COPPS (Community Oriented Policing and Problem Solving Team), as highlights of 26- year experience with the GPD.
A native of neighboring Lawndale, Saffell really connected with the Gardena community-at-large early on through friends.
“It’s a tight-knit community, a hard working community, with a culture of service” said Saffell.
Saffell was inspired to become a law enforcer by witnessing how police officers coordinated and cooperated with him when he was a 18-year-old security officer. Since he was already attending Cal State Long Beach for a bachelors degree in criminal justice, it seemed to make sense to follow the path of Along with his degree from CSULB, Saffell brings to the office academic achievements that include a masters degree in negotiations, conflict resolution and peacebuilding from Cal State Dominguez, a certificate in financial management from Cornell University and a degree from Command College for California Police Officer Standards and Training.
“I love this job, ” Saffell exclaimed near the end of the question and answer session “And it is not just a job but I think of it as a calling. It is all about service to me.” And he expects to protect and serve Gardena as the chief until retirement.
Mayor Tasha Cerda chimed in her confidence for the police chief. “I am pleased with the promotion of Mike Saffell,” she said. “I have known him for many years. The future of the police department is in very capable hands.”