By GWEN MURANAKA
Rafu English Editor in chief
Paul Tanaka was elevated on Monday to undersheriff, second-in-command of the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department, by Sheriff Lee Baca.
Tanaka, who is also mayor of Gardena, replaces Larry L. Waldie, who announced his retirement last week.
Tanaka is a 30-year law enforcement veteran and has served as assistant sheriff since 2005, commanding the department’s three Field Operations Patrol Regions, Detective Division, and the Office of Homeland Security. He explained that his new duties involve management and oversight over all aspects of the Sheriff’s Department. The undersheriff assumes the duty of the sheriff in his absence.
“Basically, this position is responsible for the general oversight for all of law enforcement, with 18,000 people, including 10,000 sworn officers,” Tanaka said. “Jails, courts, patrol, all 23 patrol stations, all investigations, homeland security, training, you name it.”
Tanaka noted that his experience includes overseeing many aspects of the Sheriff’s Department, from terrorism and detective divisions to managing the complex issues of budget and human resources. He holds an accounting degree from Loyola Marymount University, and is a certified public accountant.
“The good thing about having overseen both sides is I have a pretty good grasp on the entire operation of a diverse and complex organization,” Tanaka explained.
Tanaka began his law enforcement career at the El Segundo Police Department in June 1980. Two years later, Tanaka transferred to the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, where he held various line assignments in patrol, custody and served as a recruitment deputy.
At the direction of Baca, Tanaka was promoted to commander in 2001, and assigned to the Office of the Undersheriff as one of the commanders of the department. In 2002, Assistant Sheriff Tanaka was then promoted to chief, charged with directing the Administrative Services Division, where he managed more than 1,200 employees and a department budget of about $1.7 billion.
Tanaka, who has worked alongside Baca for the past 15 years, said that the sheriff has been one of his biggest supporters “since day one.” He said that Baca diversified the ranks of law enforcement, without ignoring the white males of the department.
“He sticks steadfastly to best person for the job,” Tanaka said.
“Sheriff Baca has instilled in each of his commanding officers that he expects you to do your job, not shirk your responsibilities and treat people right. He lives by that mantra and expects every member of this organization to live by that mantra.”
As undersheriff, Tanaka said his responsibility is to make sure the Sheriff’s Department is prepared for any possible scenario.
“What weighs on you is that at any given time you could have a tragedy: a civil riot, a catastrophic natural disaster like an earthquake, a terrorist attack,” he explained. “Feeling the responsibility that all the people in the units are prepared to step up and at the end of the day look back and say, ‘Wow there was chaos, and sheriffs brought order to the house.’ ”
Tanaka is a long-time resident of Gardena and was first elected to the Gardena City Council in 1999, serving as mayor for the past seven years. His wife, Valerie, is also an officer in the Sheriff’s Department, working out of the South Los Angeles Station Detective Bureau. They have a 2-year-old son, Paul Jr.
Tanaka said he likes to get in five-mile runs during the week to clear his head. But he doesn’t feel overly stressed by all of his responsibilities, crediting strong support staffs at the Sheriff’s Department and the City of Gardena.
“Balancing a family, being undersheriff and being a mayor, you have to be surrounded by best, most hard-working people. I am blessed to have that around me,” Tanaka said.