A police captain in Arizona has been chosen as the next police chief of Hobbs.
The City of Hobbs announced in a news release Wednesday that John Joseph Ortolano, a 21-year veteran employee of the Arizona Department of Public Safety, has accepted a conditional offer of employment to become the city’s 25th police chief.
Acting City Manager Manny Gomez said Wednesday the conditional offer made to Ortolano has an annual salary of $124,800. Gomez said Ortolano’s projected start date is Aug. 26 or around the end of August. The position leading the department of 151 current staff members with 107 certified officers was advertised by the city with an annual salary of $96,018 to $161,169.
Ortolano prevailed in a field of 26 applicants that included a detective with the Chicago Police Department, an ATF agent, a former Lea County sheriff, a current Lea County magistrate judge and former police chief, and police chiefs from around the nation, including Roswell. The application window was mid-April through May 10.
Ortolano, a captain for the Arizona Department of Public Safety where he’s worked since June 1998, Jesus “Jesse” Francisco Orozco, the public safety director for the Laguna Pueblo, and Virgil Lee Green Sr., deputy chief/major with the Tulsa (Oklahoma) Public Schools Police Department who graduated from Hobbs High School in 1982, were chosen as finalists for the position in June by a city committee.
Ortolano told the News-Sun Wednesday he first heard about the position vacated by former Police Chief Chris McCall from several of his law enforcement friends in New Mexico.
“They explained to me the great opportunities that exist in the community, the police department, and with other law enforcement professionals,” Ortolano said via email. “Everyone I spoke to said how great the community is and how they truly appreciate the hard work that the police department does every day. Also, a close family friend of mine used to live in Hobbs and expressed just how friendly the people are. Visiting Hobbs several times reinforced what everyone told me and strengthened my desire to relocate.”
According to the news release, Gomez said “former Chief McCall and Acting Chief of Police Dunlap have positioned the department for its next steps, and it is my opinion that John Ortolano has strong proven management, systems, and culture changing leadership skills to sustain and expand that work.”
Asked about his immediate goals, Ortolano said he plans to formulate a strategic plan.
“I plan on working with (Gomez), elected officials, police department employees, and members of the community, to assemble a strategic plan for the police department,” he said. “I truly want employees each day to come to work happy, provide professional and effective services to the community, and go home happy. In turn the employees can strengthen even further the bonds that already exist between the police department and the community. The bond between the community and the police department is essential for success.”
Ortolano has been an Arizona trustee on the national board of directors for the Fraternal Order of Police since June 2011.
“I frequently meet with the heads of police and sheriff agencies, elected officials, and members of the public concerning police issues, legislative developments and other assorted issues,” he wrote in his application. “I am well-versed with police labor and employee issues and fair resolutions of grievances.”
Ortolano currently serves as the district commander of the State Gang Task Force in Phoenix. He has worked for the Arizona Department of Public Safety since June 1998, serving as a captain since September 2014. He previously served as the Phoenix Regional Police Academy’s executive officer, where he trained more than 1,000 recruits.
Prior to the Arizona Department of Public Safety, Ortolano was an education supervisor for ITT Technical Institute in Getzville, N.Y. from May 1996 through June 1998.
Ortolano graduated from Empire State College in Buffalo with an associate’s degree in science, math and technology in October 1994, and with a bachelor’s degree in science, math and technology in 1996. He obtained a master’s degree in criminal justice/disaster & emergency management from American Military University in July 2015.
Ortolano was a petty officer in the U.S. Navy, stationed in Norfolk, Va., from February 1987 through February 1993, and was a combat medic in the New York Army National Guard from August 1983 through December 1986.
“As a law enforcement professional with a proven background in leading criminal investigation and patrol districts as well as serving in administrative and tactical operations positions, it is with confidence that I submit my resume for consideration to become a member of your team,” Ortolano wrote in his cover letter. “Throughout my career, I have been successful in producing positive results and I have a consistent history of advancing shared departmental and program goals.”
Among the highlights of his career, Ortolano testified before the President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing in the area of police training and education, was a committee member of the National Institute of Justice tasked with developing new standards of police and military body armor, and was an agency representative on the National Institute of Justice’s Smart Gun Technologies Committee. He was also a member of Governor’s Peace Officer Employment Study Committee in Arizona, tasked with examining police officer recruitment and retention, and a member of Governor’s State Employee Professionalism and Development Committee.
Ortolano and the other two finalists toured the city and the Hobbs Police Department in July when the final rounds of interviews took place with the city’s Police Chief Hiring Advisory Committee. The committee was comprised of Gomez; human resources director Nicholas Goulet; deputy city attorney Erik Scramlin; RP Hopper, president of Hobbs Local Union 701; Gene Strickland, director of operations for Hobbs Municipal Schools; Joe Cotton, president of the NAACP Hobbs branch; Becca Titus, business owner and instructor at New Mexico Junior College; Lemma White, a retired judge and educator; and Angela Martinez, director of the Lea County Communications Authority.
The committee did not chose for finalists any of the six applicants with former or current experience with the Hobbs Police Department. Acting police chief Dunlap did not apply for the police chief position. He was appointed interim police chief following McCall’s retirement on Feb. 28.
Twelve of the 26 applicants were initially interviewed via the internet, with nine of those later interviewed in-person. There were no public forums throughout the process, although the city did have a bilingual online survey soliciting input from the public.
“Integrity was high up on the list,” Hobbs communication director Meghan Mooney said in June. “They did want experience, specifically in public safety and military. They are interested in community policing and new ideas for community policing, for crime-fighting strategies, all of those things.”
Jeff Tucker can be reached at managingeditor@hobbsnews.