By GWEN MURANAKA, Rafu English Editor-in-Chief
TORRANCE — For Mark Matsuda, 27 years of dedication came down to one proud moment. On Tuesday night with family, friends and a large contingent of police officers in attendance, the 50-year-old police officer officially became the 12th police chief in the history of Torrance — its first of Japanese American heritage.
Matsuda has worked as a police officer with the Torrance Police Department since 1987. As chief he commands a police department of more than 200 sworn officers and an annual budget of $68 million.
In an interview at his office, Matsuda noted that many Asian Americans paved the way, including former Assemblymember George Nakano, State Sen. Ted Lieu and Eric Tsao, Torrance finance director.
“It’s not unusual to see an Asian American in a leadership position. It feels a little odd that it is a big deal; at the same time I can understand why,” Matsuda said. “In my career of 27 years I’ve never faced the feeling that I was looked at for anything other than merit.”
Nakano congratulated Matsuda in a statement, saying, “We should all be proud of this great milestone and I offer my hearty congratulations to Mark Matsuda.”
Matsuda graduated as an honor cadet from the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department Academy. He received his bachelor of arts degree from Cal State Long Beach and earned a master’s degree from Chapman University in 2007.
“As I searched for a career, I happened to go on a couple ride-alongs with a couple agencies and I made the decision that that was the career I wanted to pursue. Fortunately, I haven’t had to look back since that time,” Matsuda said.
In his career at Torrance PD, Matsuda participated in the city’s first gang detail, started the city’s bike patrol and has been a member of the SWAT and surveillance teams. He has been interim chief for the past three months since the retirement of former Chief John Neu.
At Matsuda’s official swearing in, Torrance Mayor Frank Scotto emphasized the importance of the appointment, noting that the city was recently named the 10th-safest city in the U.S.
“The magnitude of this appointment — it’s just not a department head, it’s a huge portion of our city,” Scotto said.
Matsuda was chosen from among six applicants during an in-house selection process conducted by City Manager Leroy Jackson.
Addressing Matsuda on Tuesday, Jackson said, “Chief, you now will define the vision (for the police department) and be responsible for setting and maintaining the course for its future to be given to your successor.”
“Leroy Jackson is an iconic figure among city managers, not only in the city but throughout the state,” Matsuda reflected. “To have been appointed by him means a lot and I know I have a lot to live up to — not just to him, but for the city and the department. Those things are always in the back of your mind.”
Matsuda said among his priorities are combating a recent spike in residential burglaries.
“Currently our primary crime issue is residential burglaries and other cities in the area are experiencing the same thing. I’m talking Manhattan Beach, Gardena, Torrance, Redondo, Hawthorne. We’re directing a lot of our resources and energies to combating that,” he stated.
Among his duties are to ensure the needs of the department and its employees are met, but also reach out to the city’s residents.
“Be an ambassador for the community so they know what their department is doing for them and what more they want to see from us.”
A Yonsei, Matsuda is the first in his family to go into law enforcement. Among family in attendance on Tuesday were his mother Nora and sister Shelli Morikawa.
His wife Kristin beamed as she pinned the new badge on Matsuda’s crisp black uniform. Throughout the brief ceremony, the couple’s daughters, Sophie, Mathilde and Candice, who wore matching sun dresses, happily posed for the cameras. Kristin worked as a city prosecutor and criminal defense attorney, and is currently a stay-at-home.
“They are old enough to grasp (my appointment),” Matsuda said of his young daughters. “They know it’s kinda neat. They’re at that age they’re not thinking about a negative impact on their social life. At this point they’re really just happy.
“I’m grateful I have these young kids now because they offer me that balance. When I get home, I don’t have time to worry about stuff going on at work because they do demand a lot of my attention and I don’t mind that. That’s a good part of my day.”