California Police Chief- Fall 2013 - Page 17

Leonardi helped put handcuffs on the man, who later was identified as Morgan Wayne Walker, 36. Walker was booked on a charge of resisting arrest. Police later determined he wasn’t the man who assaulted the city employee. Chief Stops Thief Leonardi returned to the area where the suspect first ran and found a discarded college ring that was stolen in a residential burglary two days before. An iPod in the backpack has since been identified as stolen. Redondo Beach Police Chief Joe Leonardi just wanted the story to die. “I’m embarrassed,” he says. Leonardi’s exploits soon hit the local paper, and then the story caught fire. Embarrassed, the police chief didn’t watch TV for three days. “And that bothered me,” Leonardi says, “because I like to watch TV.” Redondo chief hops on suspect’s bike and helps make arrest The police chief isn’t trying to hide anything. Rather, the 30-year law enforcement veteran is uncomfortable being in the spotlight for recently assisting in the arrest of an assault suspect by hopping on the suspect’s abandoned bicycle and chasing after him. The July incident, which occurred after lunch when Leonardi was wearing a pinstriped suit and tie, attracted national media attention. Leonardi says he’s not eager for the spotlight. “There are police officers in this department and throughout the state who do good work every day, but they get no recognition,” says Leonardi, 57. “And that bothers me.” Still, he realizes the story about the bike chase is pretty amusing, and it has given his staff and other area chiefs some good laughs. Leonardi admits that the suspect may have gotten away if he hadn’t hopped on the man’s planned getaway vehicle and assisted his uniformed officers. “I really irritated (the suspect),” Leonardi says, “and that’s a good thing. Another good thing is that most people, after reading about this, have been saying positive things about the police.” Here’s what happened that day in the beach city near Los Angeles: As he usually does whenever possible, Leonardi had lunch with his wife. He drove his unmarked patrol car to a park where a transient had recently assaulted a Public Works employee. Redondo Beach officers were looking for the suspect — a 6-foot-tall male — for assaulting a city employee in the park on July 3. The suspect had fled on a rusty black bike. Leonardi spotted a man who fit the description arguing with a group of homeless people in Veterans Park. When the suspect rode away on an identical-looking bike, Leonardi called for backup and started following him at a distance in his city car. When a patrol officer pulled up to the suspect 32 | Behind The Badge BTB-Magazine-Fall2012.indd 32-33 and attempted to stop him on foot, the man on the bicycle sped away and began zigzagging through streets and alleys. Leonardi followed him and told patrol officers which way he was heading. The suspect stopped in an alley, threw down his bike and a backpack, and started running. Leonardi told officers that the suspect was running on foot toward the next street. He started to run after him, but the suspect quickly ran through a gate with a 150-foot lead. Leonardi picked up the backpack, got on the bike and pedaled after the suspect. Officers later would tell Leonardi that they were confused to see the gray-haired chief on a bike, zipping down streets in his suit at speeds of up to 25 mph. “One of my officers thought, ‘I didn’t know he exercised at lunch!’” Leonardi recalls. While riding the bike, Leonardi startled an older lady when he had to brake and skid behind her. “Did you see anybody around here running?” he asked the shaken pedestrian. She pointed across the street to an empty patrol car. Leonardi figures he cut off the suspect’s escape at least twice as the suspect jumped fences. He rode the bike back and forth from the alley to the street twice before another officer found the suspect running across the alley. He says of the bike ride that made him famous: “I wasn’t intending to get involved. I just wanted a patrol unit to stop him. When the suspect ran, I didn’t want him to backtrack and get the bike and backpack, and I didn’t want him to get away.” Since the story broke, Leonardi has taken a lot of ribbing from fellow chiefs and officers for the offbeat collaring of a suspect. He has received photos from his staff with his head on a