INGLEWOOD — City officials said this week that they are opposed to residents' requests that a citizens panel be formed to assist in finding a replacement for retiring Police Chief Joseph Rouzan.
"It's just not a good idea," Mayor Edward Vincent said Tuesday. "We want to have a new chief by April. It would take longer than that to establish this so-called citizens panel."
Community activists have held a series of public meetings in recent weeks to discuss the issue and have asked city officials to form a panel to assure the community a role in selecting the city's new police chief.
"We feel we could assist the city in finding someone who is sensitive to what this community needs," Frank Denkins, vice president of the Inglewood Chamber of Commerce and a strong supporter of a citizens panel, said last week.
But Inglewood officials say such a panel is unnecessary because the city already accepts and even encourages community participation.
"We are always open to input from our citizens, and I am glad to see that these folks really want to get involved," Mayor Vincent said Tuesday, adding that the same people who requested the citizens panel have rarely attended public hearings or City Council meetings.
"We'll listen to what these people have to say, but they must remember that they elected the city officials, and now they are going to have to trust that we will make the right decision."
Officials admit that the decision will not be an easy one. "We'll have to weigh the department's concerns against those of the greater community," said Councilman Virgle Benson.
Inglewood police officers and management favor appointing a chief from within the department, said Jim Boggs, president of the Inglewood Police Assn., which represents rank-and-file officers. Both the rank-and-file and management unions favor naming Deputy Police Chief Robert Gavney to the post, Boggs said.
Gavney, a 25-year veteran of the Inglewood Police Department, has been acting police chief since Rouzan retired Jan. 17.
But the residents who support a citizens panel are not convinced that a chief selected from within the department would enact a strong minority hiring policy.
"The city's choice for a new chief should reflect an overall commitment to increase the number of minorities in the Inglewood Police Department," said Cedric Barnes, one of the residents who requested the citizens panel.
Residents who support the panel say Gavney is a preferred white candidate because of his experience and support of affirmative action programs. But most said they would rather see a minority replace Rouzan, who was paid $90,000 a year as the city's first black police chief.
In an interview last month, Gavney himself said the city might benefit from having another minority police chief, but he said none of the department's minority officers qualify for such an appointment.
"The city has to pit the benefits of hiring an insider who the officers already know and respect against the benefits of bringing in a minority outsider," Gavney said.
Over the last 15 years, Inglewood has changed from a mostly white community to a city with an 80% minority population. Minorities account for 26% of the Police Department's sworn officers.
Rouzan increased the number of minorities on the force by 13% during his 4 1/2-year tenure. The department's 185 sworn officers include 53 minorities: 29 blacks, 18 Latinos and 6 Asians.
"We want to make sure the city chooses someone who understands the needs of this rapidly changing community and is willing to make the necessary adjustments to make sure the Police Department keeps in step with those changes," Barnes said.
Vincent and other city officials said a citizens panel was not needed to select Rouzan, who had strong community support throughout his tenure.
"A citizens panel is absolutely unnecessary," City Manager Paul Eckles said last week. "The city has hired numerous successful police chiefs without a citizens review panel and we are confident that we will do it again."
Will Air Concerns
Those who are calling for the citizens panel, however, said they plan to air their concerns in one way or another.
"If the city refuses to form a citizens panel or commission, then we will have to talk with our councilmen on an individual basis and make sure they pass our concerns on to the non-elected officials who will make the final decision on a new police chief," Inglewood resident Don McClure said Tuesday.
City Manager Paul Eckles, who will hire the new chief, has said that he and other city officials expect to review more than 200 applicants for the position.