HERMOSA BEACH — Saying he has a "disease called alcoholism," Police Chief Frank Beeson said he believes his 20-day suspension without pay for being intoxicated while on duty was fair.
But Mayor George Barks and one city councilman say the incident shows that rules for Police Department discipline are perhaps too lenient and should be reviewed. The councilman, Tony DeBellis, said he also thinks Beeson should resign, although he will not formally ask for the chief's badge.
"I have a disease called alcoholism and you cannot treat that yourself," Beeson said from his home last week. He said he had admitted himself to a local hospital for treatment of alcohol abuse immediately after the Feb. 20 incident that led to his suspension. He said he continues to receive treatment as an outpatient.
Beeson declined further comment on the drinking incident, except to say, "The incident is over. . . . I am in the process of recovery."
When asked about Barks' and DeBellis' call for a review of Police Department disciplinary rules, Beeson said, "They are entitled to their beliefs."
Intoxicated on Duty
City Manager Gregory T. Meyer suspended Beeson for 20 days without pay after a departmental investigation concluded that the chief was intoxicated while on duty at the station on Feb. 20. Beeson, who was briefly suspended shortly after he was appointed chief in 1981 when he showed up at a City Council meeting intoxicated, is scheduled to return to active duty April 15.
Meyer, citing the confidentiality of personnel files, has declined to elaborate on the February incident, but council members have said privately that Beeson apparently returned to the station after he had been drinking and decided to hold a meeting with his upper-level staff members. Upset that one off-duty officer was late in arriving for the meeting, he allegedly phoned the officer's home, reached the officer's wife, and threatened to fire her husband, they said.
When Meyer announced the suspension, he said that because Beeson is a Civil Service employee, any disciplinary action against him must conform to departmental rules. The rules state that an officer who reports to duty while under the influence of alcohol must be suspended for 15 days.
If an officer reports for duty intoxicated a second time, the rules dictate that he be suspended for 30 days. A third offense is punishable by dismissal.
Statute of Limitations
However, the rules have a statute of limitations of three years, according to Meyer. Therefore, Beeson's first suspension for drinking four years ago could not be held against him, and the maximum suspension that could be imposed on him this time was 15 days.
Meyer said he added another five days to the suspension for conduct unbecoming an officer after the investigation upheld the allegation that Beeson used "abusive verbal behavior" during the telephone conversation. The department's regulations do not specifically state what type of disciplinary action must be meted out for such misconduct.
DeBellis and Barks said they are not certain that a council review of the department's disciplinary rules would result in changes, but both said they feel the rules pertaining to alcohol abuse may not be strict enough.
"I feel three strikes and you're out is great in baseball," said DeBellis, referring to the regulations. "But in some endeavors, I am not sure you need three chances."
Rules 'Too Lenient'
"I think they (the rules) are entirely too lenient when they come to chemical dependency," Barks said. "I think you can always make improvements to these (types) of documents."
Barks also said he believes that Beeson will have to work to regain the trust not only of the community, but of the city's police officers. According to a March 8 vote by the Hermosa Beach Police Assn., a majority of the officers have "no confidence" in the chief.
"He is facing an uphill battle in the Police Department," Barks said. "And there are a number of citizens I have spoken to who feel the chief should be dismissed."
Councilman Gary Brutsch declined to say whether he thought the rules were too lenient, but he said he would have been "totally dissatisfied" with the 20-day suspension if Beeson had not undergone treatment for alcohol abuse. Council members John Cioffi and Jack Wood were reportedly on vacation and could not be reached for comment.
Wally Moore, president of the 36-officer association, has declined to elaborate on the vote. He has said the association, which has been in unsuccessful contract negotiations with the city for several months, had considered taking a vote of confidence on Beeson late last year.
Rules Established in 1975
Moore said the department's disciplinary rules were established by the department in 1975 and apply to all sworn personnel. The rules were set up to provide a specific system for handling disciplinary matters within the department, he said.
By comparison, city officials in Torrance, Redondo Beach and Manhattan Beach said that rules governing police misconduct in their communities give the police chief or city manager greater latitude for handling misconduct.
"I don't know of too many cities that predetermine the severity of the penalty based on the infraction," Redondo Beach City Manager Tim Casey said.