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Audit Suggests Restraint by Newport Beach Police

March 20, 1986|HEIDI EVANS | Times Staff Writer

A 700-page management audit of the Newport Beach Police Department released Wednesday generally gave the agency high marks but found that the department's aggressive policing should be re-examined in light of excessive lawsuits and complaints.

The $60,000 audit, which was prepared by the National League of Cities on behalf of Newport Beach officials, found that the department, with 139 sworn officers, was "above average" compared to others its size and that it operated in "a professional and competent manner."

But the audit also said the department's strict enforcement posture "at all times and locations" has resulted in patrol officers' over-concern about logging enough arrests and issuing enough citations. Patrol officers also are judged by the number of times they question someone in the field.

The audit suggested that "selective aggressiveness would better serve the contemporary policing needs of the community."

Audit director Thompson Crockett said Wednesday from his office in Virginia that the Newport Beach Police Department "believes strict enforcement is not only what the community wants but that it's necessary. It is certainly not the only way to go, especially when it's universally applied in all situations. The stricter you are the more likely people are going to resent it, and you get more complaints and unhappiness on the part of the public."

Criticisms of Police

Department critics in the past have said that Newport Beach Police are quick to stop and question residents and visitors, particularly young people and minorities, for seemingly little reason.

More than 100 lawsuits and claims alleging excessive force, false arrest or civil rights violations have been filed against the department in the past eight years.

Since July, 1985, a total of 40 claims have been filed against the department, 23 of which alleged excessive force, false arrest, civil rights violations or abuse, according to Joan Teeter of the city's Personnel Department. The audit was commissioned last summer when tensions were running high between Newport's younger residents on the Balboa Peninsula and police.

Crockett suggested that the department allow officers more discretion in enforcing Newport's laws against loitering or drinking in public. "We are not talking about burglars and bank robbers here but code-enforcement activities which do not necessarily demand an officer make an arrest."

The audit noted that patrol officers are "in virtually unanimous agreement" that the numbers of their arrests, citations and field interrogations "are very important to their careers, and most would welcome less emphasis on this aspect of their work."

The audit also recommended that reducing excessive force complaints and claims should be a high priority for the department and the new police chief.

'Undesirable Image'

"To the extent that excessive force allegations are resulting from unnecessarily aggressive policing, aggressiveness should be reduced," the audit stated. "The continuous complaints and claims of excessive force are--whether unfounded or not--contributing to an undesirable image for the department."

But in general, the auditors said, "We have identified no need for radical changes in the organization of the Newport Beach Police Department."

The department is, the audit said, "one of those rare police departments where experimentation and change are seen as a welcome challenge rather than a dreaded threat to the status quo."

Acting Police Chief Arv Campbell said Wednesday that he had only read a portion of the audit but nevertheless would not institute any of the audit's recommendations.

"I don't plan as the acting chief to make any significant changes," said Campbell, who is one of the candidates being considered for the chief's job. "Whether or not we should have the aggressive enforcement policies that we have or whether we reorganize the department should be left for the permanent chief to decide."

New Chief Next Month

City Manager Robert Wynn said a permanent chief will be chosen next month. Police Chief Charles Gross stepped down in January after seven years in the job.

Gross declined to comment on the audit because he had not seen a copy of it.

The audit also recommended that the department continue its "unique and valuable" helicopter patrol program and that the starting monthly salary for officers be increased by $58 from $2,142 to $2,200 to put the department in a "very favorable recruiting position."

It also suggested that all citizens' complaints and investigations be recorded in writing and citizens notified of the outcome, "even when the complaining party seems satisfied." Otherwise, the audit said, the department gives the appearance of "stationhouse adjudication" and is open to "charges that (the department) killed a legitimate complaint or 'talked' the citizen out of making a complaint."

The Newport Beach City Council will review the audit's findings and recommendations with Crockett during a public hearing on April 14.

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