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LA MESA, Calif. – As La Mesa embarks on a process to find its next top cop, residents are urging city leaders to carefully consider the character and convictions of prospective candidates.

“I would like the police chief to be proactive and embrace transparency,” one caller said Monday in a video conference put on by recruiters from Los Angeles-based Teri Black and Company.

The firm was hired by the city to gather input from the public on which desirable characteristics, leadership style and priorities the city’s next police chief should have. The recruiting process should take about five weeks. They plan to have a candidate in place by March.

It comes four months after former Chief Walt Vasquez retired from the role in August.

Department officials said Vasquez, who landed the position after a 29-year career with the San Diego Police Department, had planned to step down months before but stayed on to help during the pandemic. But the retirement also comes in the midst of a chaotic year in policing, including in La Mesa where protests turned violent in May.

“Strength of character to make major changes on day one for racial equality,” said another who joined the meeting.

“We want someone who is going to be collaborative but also someone who is not afraid to get criticized because this role is going to require a pretty thick skin,” another said.

Just a couple days after the George Floyd killing in Minnesota, a controversial arrest of a black man at a trolley stop in La Mesa surfaced, and a couple days after that protests turned violent outside the La Mesa police department where a grandmother was hit in the head with a police projectile. The officer involved since has resigned from the position.

“I think this new leader has the chance to build trust and build bridges, and I hope the city doesn’t miss the opportunity,” another caller said.