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Santa Monica Bids Butts Farewell

By Olin Ericksen
Staff Writer

August 21 -- Whether over salmon and wine at the plush Fairmont Hotel or barbecue fare at Virginia Avenue Park, hundreds poured out over the weekend to bid farewell to one of the most popular public figures in Santa Monica, Police Chief James T. Butts, Jr.

After nearly 16 years of service, Butts will leave his post September 4 to help oversee the safety of millions of airline passengers who use area airports, including LAX, each year. But leaving his ocean-view office and the Santa Monica citizens he has served and protected for so many years will not be easy, though, Butts said.

“It’s a very bitter-sweet situation, but I have an opportunity to go and do another good thing in my career,” Butts said Saturday afternoon, as a crowd of well wishers and well-positioned photographers swarmed around him. “This is my third chance to do some good and not many people get that opportunity.

“Most police chiefs don’t last more than two or three years, and I’ve made it 15 (years),” he said. “But the more important thing is that I feel like -- in conjunction with the community and the people I work with -- we’ve made a profound difference in this city’s safety, in its quality of life, and it feels wonderful to have people out on this Saturday to say good-bye.”

Though not without his critics, Butts has ranked in local polls as one of the most well-known and liked public officials in Santa Monica. Residents at the barbecue waited for several minutes to shake his hand or even embrace the muscular chief at the more dressed-down of two going-away events -- a testament that his service has touched many.

Antique squad cars, music, horse-mounted officers and a banner reading, “Thanks for 16 years of service,” dressed up the event in the heart of the Pico Neighborhood, Santa Monica’s poorest and most ethnically diverse area.

Across town on Friday night, nearly 500 people also paid their respects -- and $150 a plate -- to benefit the Police Activities League (PAL) at the luxurious Fairmont Hotel facing Palisades Park.

“I had two venues for my going-away, one on the north end of town and one on the south end,” Butts said. “I had my dinner at the Fairmont Mirimar, and what better place to have it in the southern section of the City than Virginia Park which is representative of where the community gathers.”

While some in the Pico Neighborhood have been the most vocal critics of Butts’ approached to community relations -- especially in combating persistent gang violence in the area – the chief will likely leave a strong legacy in the beachside city.

Under his watch, Santa Monica boasts its lowest crime rate in 50 years. Also under Butts -- who is black -- the City’s police force has significantly increased its racial diversity and added dollars to the department’s bottom line.

Today, local police are among the best equipped and highest paid in the nation.

While taking with him fond memories of Santa Monica, Butts is looking forward to serving the nations’ travelers as deputy executive director of Airport Law Enforcement and Protection Services for Los Angeles World Airports, said Lt. Frank Fabrega, the department spokesman.

“We’ve spent a lot of time together,” Fabrega said. “He has a new challenge there and he’s going to enjoy it there. He’s left the organization in great hands.”

City officials have launched a search for a new police chief to replace Butts, who makes an annual salary of $177,000. Meanwhile an interim chief is expected to be named by the end of next month.

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